An entertaining production stemming out of a problematic script, New Farm Nash Theatre’s Sweeney Todd is a mismatch of creative direction, underdeveloped plot progression, two dimensional characters and diamond in the rough performances.
If there is anything to be said for Brian J. Burton’s adaptation of the classic Sweeney Todd myth it’s that he has a talent for turning a mature issue into a melodramatic children’s theatre piece for adults. With characters like Sweeney Todd (Dan Lane) and Mrs. Lovett (Alison Pattinson) lacking complexity in their characterisation from the get-go, and others such as Colonel Eustave Jeffrey (William Toft) being dropped entirely at the play’s climax, I couldn’t help but frown at the unnecessary effort the actors were having to go to in order to develop their characters.
While Lane did a marvellous job as the melodramatic, murderous Sweeney Todd, the character’s motivations seemed inconsistent. In the first act Mr. Todd tells the audience himself how evil he is, but as the act progresses that’s all he seems to be: evil, greedy, and a murderer. While each of Todd’s solo songs were loaded with potential to reveal the motivation behind his development into a murderous villain, all the expositional pieces seemed to do was remind us that Mr. Todd is evil, and that he’s been that way since he was a child. As Todd’s guilt slowly creeps in over the second act we are shown that he cannot escape his conscience, and thankfully he is given a fraction of humanity. Lane did a wonderful job at finding motivation for the problematic character’s downfall and, with his beautiful voice and entertaining demeanour, I was almost fooled into reading the character as a relatable victim of his society. Put simply, Lane and Director Sandra Harman did a wonderful job at making a underdeveloped character come alive and win us over.
Just as Lane did a magnificent job of embodying a half-cooked character, Toft did well to accept his character’s unexplained disappearance during the show’s conclusion. Unlike Sweeney Todd, Colonel Jeffrey’s development as a character was laid out clearly within his opening appearances. While, I must admit, it can be considered much easier to fall in love than become a murderer, Colonel Jeffrey reassured my doubts of Burton’s ability to create a believable character. Once again, however, the performance of the cast was limited by the problematic writing, with Colonel Jeffrey being dropped from the script the moment Mr. Todd escapes his fate. Harman did a good job of featuring Toft as a crowd member for the final scenes, but I was left dissatisfied with yet another character’s development.
Characters who did impress overall, and performers who deserve an honourable mention, are Tobias Ragg (Jackson Howe) and Jarvis Williams (James Meggitt). Howe did a wonderful job portraying Tobias’ many frustrations as he whined, fought, tap danced, and sung his way out of Mr. Todd’s menacing claws. Howe is definitely a young triple threat. I felt a wave of satisfaction as Tobias asked all the questions, demanded the respect and enlisted the help of charming Jarvis Williams.Meggitt was an absolute delight! From his heartwarming accent to his cheeky one-liners, Meggitt was definitely a highlight of the show. From the moment he ate his first pie to his gang up with Tobias, the duo restored my faith in the show.
The set design was a simple yet effective platform for the actors to work with. The red retracting barber’s chair was an effective on stage agent in bringing out Mr. Todd’s unforgiving murders. As each victim fell down to the cellar below, Mr. Todd’s “finishing them off” seemed to hasten. As guests Esekiel Smith (Zac Alfred), Mark Ingestre (Brendan James) and Jean Parmine (Liam Donnelly) are snapped back in the red chair tensions rise and Mr. Todd’s patience seems to wear thin.
With a script that left a bad taste in my mouth but a performance that seemed to do it justice, Sweeney Todd definitely left me scratching my head in confusion. The resonant performances, live music and appropriate set and costume design added satisfying finishing touches to the overall production, bringing me to the conclusion that the New Farm Nash Theatre did well considering the script’s countless limitations.
– Written by Rhumer Diball July 22nd 2015
SWEENEY TODD PRESENTED BY NEW FARM NASH THEATRE.
SAT JULY 11 – SAT AUG 1, 2015.
Photo credit Michael Dion.