The Theatreguide.London Review
Union Theatre Autumn 2008
Stephen Sondheim's large-scale musical has frequently been done by grand opera companies, so attempting it in a tiny fringe theatre might seem folly. But the Union Theatre has made a practice of overreaching and then pulling it off, and this Sweeney is far more successful than not.
Foremost among its strengths is the direction by Sasha Regan and choreography by Sally Brooks that make inventive use of the whole auditorium, surrounding us with the essential mood-setting and sustaining chorus led by musical director Christopher Mundy, and leading the principals to richly-developed performances.
Christopher Howell creates a Sweeney who dominates without overpowering the small space, capturing both the frightening madness of his Epiphany and the quieter pathos of Johanna.
I've always had a problem with the character of Mrs. Lovett since, in order to attract star Angela Lansbury to the original production, Sondheim had to write her some comic songs that clash with the rest of the show.
But Emma Francis goes a very long way toward bringing the character and her music into the same world as Todd, significantly enriching both the character and the play as a whole. Her only failing is an occasional inaudibility.
Indeed, the single greatest failing of the production as a whole is that just about everyone takes a turn being unable to make themselves heard over the sound of a single piano (Don't music schools teach projection anymore?), and far too many lack the precise enunciation Sondheim's lyrics deserve.
I am not absolutely certain that I made out a whole sentence in any of Katie Stokes' songs as Johanna, but she was just an extreme example of a general sloppiness of diction.
Except for such recurring lapses, the rest of the supporting cast is adequate, with Nigel Pilkington's Uriah Heap-ish Beadle particularly registering.
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