The end-of-year musical is the flagship event in the Drama Society’s calendar. In collaboration with the Music Society, master’s student Layla Madanat directs the viciously dark comedy-drama Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Musical theatre is a treat that is so often inaccessible; you won’t want to miss Drama Society’s stunner.
Many years after his unjust banishment, a man returns to 19th Century London under the guise of a new moniker: Sweeney Todd. Vengeance is on his mind. He wishes to seek out the judge who framed him and stole his wife and newborn daughter away from him. On this dark path he meets Mrs Lovett, the owner of a failing pie shop. In the setting of appalling social injustice, Todd’s homicidal tendencies unexpectedly marry well with brining Mrs Lovett’s enterprise to a success. But this is only the beginning of the horror.
Sweeney Todd is fluid in genre; the intensity the comes with the resurfacing of decades-old drama contrasts with the hilarious jokes. Achieving such varying tonal beats is never an easy task, but through Madanat’s direction the cast members of Sweeney Todd are able to hit each note. Help in achieving this comes from the nine-piece band helmed by Calvin Kong. The music’s omnipresence is essential in setting the atmosphere, and at times it proves a character in its own right as it guides the narrative turns.
But the major attraction of Sweeney Todd comes from the cast. In the lead role, James Knudsen reacts to dramatic revelations and fortunate opportunities. He takes the deranged state of his character to his eyes: look deep enough and you might get lost in the madness. Anna Chedham-Cooper balances this mercurial presence with the candid pragmatism of Mrs Lovett. In an earlier interview, Chedham-Cooper described herself as “very standard”. I completely disagree.
Such commitment to their roles ripples through the supporting cast, too. As the story’s star-crossed lovers, both Holly Davis and Sam Rippon are feathery and heartbreaking. Moreover, Davis is an extraordinary singer and a pleasure to listen to live. Rebekah Paredes-Larson also shows great vocal skill as she slips effortlessly between different voices. As Adolfo Pirelli, she is very much the shows ‘scene stealer’. Addy Shoichet is another great vocal asset to the production as the mysterious beggar woman.
Perhaps the most memorable performance is Claire Brewin’s as Pirelli’s simple and buoyant assistant. Brewin becomes completely unrecognisable when in character and shows great skill in portraying both the innocent and suspicious sides to Tobias Ragg. Lacking any innocence are Bryan Chan and Pavan Rao. The presence of this diabolical double act brings storm clouds. And finally, the wider ensemble cast act as a Greek Chorus that magnifies the drama.
Sweeney Todd is a culmination of Drama Society’s work this year. It has some of the comedy of The 39 Steps, the impact of Twelfth Night and the murderous antics of And Then There Were None. Reviewing the Drama Society’s productions this year made me nervous because I didn’t want to write anything negative about my fellow students’ efforts. This concern evaporated upon realising the high standards the society consistently uphold. As with the aforementioned plays, Sweeney Todd is certainly worth your time.
Find the interview with the main cast and musical director of Sweeney Todd here.
Sweeney Todd runs in the Old Theatre from Wednesday 6th March to Friday 8th March. Tickets for all three performances are still available here. They cost £3 for Drama Society members, £5 for non-members and £8 for those not a part of LSE.