Tackling such a well-known and iconic musical as Sweeney Todd was inevitably going to be an ambitious move for the Just So Society. With such an infamous storyline, audience expectations were running high for the much-anticipated shows, which were held over the course of three evenings. However, after attending one of these performances, it was clear that the cast refused to be fazed by this and proceeded to give an outstanding show.
If you are unfamiliar with Sweeney Todd, the plot follows a man condemned to penal transportation under false charges laid by a corrupt judge. Years later, he returns to London and becomes a vindictive barber, murdering clients to be baked into pies. The characters of the principle cast balanced each other out brilliantly. Whilst Sweeney Todd (Duncan Bristow) was appropriately sinister, the supporting characters were charismatic and charming enough keep scenes light-hearted and enjoyable. Laughter was elicited with ease from the audience on numerous occasions, which characterised the overall show as a fun watch, whilst remaining true to the original storyline.
The whole cast did a great job of maintaining a palpable sense of vibrant energy throughout. Crucially, the acting itself was consistently strong on the whole – scenes performed in tandem with singing and dancing had an especially slick choreography. I felt that several actors commanded the stage particularly well, including Alice Gold (who played Mrs Lovett), and Coggin Galbreath (Tobias Ragg). Both of these had key roles in several comedic scenes, which were skilfully executed as funny, but not over the top. The former also had a number of scenes alone with the play’s protagonist. As Sweeney Todd is such an intense and subdued character, her melodramatic charisma played an important role in carrying scenes forward. Alice managed to do so in a way that complemented the role of Sweeney Todd, without overshadowing him as a more boisterous and extroverted character.
Furthermore, I was surprised to discover after watching the play, that several of the main cast were not British at all. To name a few, Coggin Galbreath and Thomas Halversen (who played Anthony Hope) are American; a fact I would not have gathered from their highly-convincing English accents.
Of course, music also played a massive role within the show. Most scenes contained singing in some part, with a small live orchestra in a bit at the front of the stage providing the scores. These musicians played as tirelessly and skilfully as the actors themselves, and deserve equal recognition, despite being out of view for the majority of the audience. Vocal performances ranged from good to outstanding, with a variety of songs sung. Some of these were ballad duets, whilst others were more upbeat and included the whole cast. Seonaid Eadie, who played Johannah Barker, displayed an especially impressive soprano voice.
Visually, the stage and costume designs looked authentically Victorian-esque. A silhouetted skyline of London provided the basic backdrop, whilst various other props – from real pies to a working meat grinder – provided a convincing set for other scenes. Producers did an excellent job of making the sets appear full, without having the effect of being gaudy or overwhelming. Costumes were similarly loyal to the era, adding to the authentic Victorian ambiance of the show.
Another aspect that contributed to the performance’s variety was the heavy involvement of the chorus and supporting cast members. Many also had solos and a range of speaking roles – these were by no means exclusive to the main characters of the show. This helped prevent the play from having a closed and narrow feel, since there were a much wider range of characters introduced. The supporting cast also gave excellent performances both vocally and in terms of acting. Harmonies were especially well coordinated, with different voice ranges interacting very well.
Overall, the Just So Society produced an excellent performance of Sweeney Todd, brought about by an outstandingly talented cast, and meticulous detail to stage aesthetic and choreography. This gave for a highly entertaining and enjoyable evening; like me, I’m sure many of the audience are keen to attend similar spectacles in future.