Sweeney Todd review from the Croydon Advertiser

Anne Slatford wrote for the Croydon Advertiser:

SURREY OPERA’S compelling production of the Stephen Sondheim musical thriller grabbed my attention from the moment the curtain rose on a set of swirling river mist, as a small boat glided across the stage bringing Sweeney Todd back to London after 15 years enforced exile.

As the mist cleared the scene was transformed to represent a dingy street with a ramshackle building centre stage, and it was on this edifice that most of the action took place.

Changes of scene were simply and effectively achieved by revolving the building to display the pie shop, the bakehouse, etc. and by using two levels, street and first floor where the Demon Barber’s shop was sited, complete with tilting chair and chute to dispose efficently of the unfortunate customers.

This two-tier approach was also used to good effect to suggest Judge Turpin’s house - a fine door with balcony above where sailor Anthony Hope first set eyes on Johanna. The skilful use of imaginative lighting also served to shock in moments of extreme suspense when used in conjunction with a sudden blast of sound from the orchestra pit.

All the characters were well cast, but the evening was made for me by Diane Phillips’ magnificent creation of Nellie Lovett as a blowsy, warm hearted, cunning and very funny woman.

Her opening number, The Worst Pies in London, set the tone for a fine performance; a perfect foil to Ashley Thorburn’s Sweeney Todd, cold and distant at the outset but becoming increasingly demonic, yet not without humour.

His pleasure on being reunited with his beloved razors was sensual in his handling of them and, in his song These are my Friends and his duet with Judge Turpin, Pretty Women, was a masterpiece of subtle black humour.

Chris Lloyd and Anna Margolis captured the freshness of young love as Anthony Hope and Johanna, while Richard Woodall and Clive Bebee as Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford were a suitably decadent pair of rogues.

Mark Millidge gave Nellie Lovett’s young assistant Tobias Rag a naïve simplicity without turning him into a simpleton, and I was touched by the sincerity of his solo to Mrs Lovett, Nothing’s going to Harm You.

Lyn Houghton’s crazy beggar woman and Andrew Morris as the exhuberant Pirelli added to a strong cast which was supported by a fine chorus and excellent orchestra conducted by Jonathan Butcher.