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Chipperfield Theatre Group – Sweeney Todd

9th of November 2009

Gentlemen attending the local barbers, having their throats slit and their bodies turned into pie filling – Chipperfield has never seen anything like it – well, not since Jack Midgeley retired anyway. This was Sweeney Todd, Chipperfield Theatre Group’s latest expansive production. But what sort of production was it? In the preamble it was billed as a horror but in the piece it was played as a comedy. It was listed as a musical but had all the ingredients of panto. So for all the fine efforts of the cast, the play did suffer from something of an identity problem.

Serenaded in our seats by a marvellous Barber’s Shop quartet and warned of impending horrors before the play began, the right sense of atmosphere was created. Sweeney Todd too was menacingly portrayed by newcomer Robert Peacock. His was the standout performance of the night. However, so jovial was the play that this sense of foreboding was never fully realised. This was a shame but the songs and singers were so strong in the first half of the play it didn’t hold the show back significantly. Perhaps what did was the series of albeit necessary introductions to new characters, which hindered plot development and the progressive descent from high class musical to out of season pantomime. For once, it seemed a bit of a waste of the talent that was on show for, as I have already stated, there was much in the opening half of the play to suggest that this could have stood alone as a first rate comic but still slightly edgy musical.

As ever, the cast played their part with all the principal characters able to hold a tune and putting their all into the performances. This culminated in a riotous scene in Pickle’s Gin Palace which brought the house down. The presence of a live band gave the show a polished air. So hats off to David Clough who was instrumental in making this work. Possibly, because the songs, with the exception of the splendidly choreographed “Don’t be anything less than everything you can be”, were not so strong in the second half and the jokes weren’t there as a safety net, the show did tail off considerably before the end. Futhermore, whilst I appreciate the show was set in the Victorian age, some of the humour seemed to belong there – references to the local “nut house” were borderline offensive.

Overall Sweeney Todd was a show that, whilst not lacking ambition, didn’t properly realise it. It was a like a stylish haircut that was only half finished. The group’s pantomimes are usually a cut above so this was as surprising as it was disappointing. However, when you consider that every other show they perform is already a panto the potential for overkill is always there. Maybe you can have too much of a good thing! Jason Cox

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