There are positive signs that ‘Sweeney Todd -The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ will be another stunning success for Edinburgh Music Theatre. Having been around the City’s theatrical scene for 30 years, this company have embarked on a double challenge in performing this notoriously difficult musical in English with simultaneous translation in British Sign Language.
This involves having signers in costume performing alongside the principals and a chorus singing while replacing usual hand and arm movements with sign language. This must have required a great deal of extremely hard work on behalf of the director and the cast to produce a show that was inclusive of an audience made up of many people with hearing impairment.
While not being able to put yourself in the shoes of anyone with a disability it did seem that that the show was enjoyable for the hearing audience and those who might be enjoying a well-known musical for the first time.
It did not take too long to get used to the ‘additional’ players onstage and get absorbed in the story. On a couple of occasions it did seem disconcerting (i.e. when a ‘victim’ had a double), but in the main the triumph of producing a show in two languages was a wonderful achievement and a great credit to all involved.
‘Sweeney Todd’ has more shade than light with a musical score that has its tuneful and memorable moments but often carries the story dolefully.
The story is of Benjamin Barker, a wrongly convicted barber who returns to London from transportation to the colonies seeking revenge. The judge who sentenced him had designs on Barker’s wife and was keen to get him out of the way. The judge is now living with his ward, Johanna and the wife is missing presumed dead.
Set among the poor of London, Barker alias Sweeney Todd is befriended by Mrs Lovett, baker of the worst pies in London. They soon come up with a plan to wreak revenge and improve the content of the pies.
A seaman, Anthony, meets Todd on the return to ‘blighty’ falls for Johanna on first sighting at a window to provide some love interest to the mainly dark and gruesome plot!
Warrick Hunter is immense as Todd. Not only does he have the required stage presence for the part, his singing voice has the same sound and quality as the soundtrack of the film. Hazel Beattie makes a fantastic Mrs Lovett with voice and facial expressions that extract every piece of comedy from the songs and scenes that she is in.
Adam Pringle as Anthony and Sarah Haddath as Johanna have the difficult job of putting personality into characters let down by the writer but the haunting song ‘Johanna’ is well delivered and one of the better known songs from the show. Venice Van Someren carries off the part of the young boy and the scenes involving his master Michael Davies as Pirelli were a highlight. Kenneth Pinkerton as the judge and Gert Griesel as the Beadle make effective ‘baddies’.
The band provides the atmospheric sound that the music demands and congratulations to the musical director and his players. Admiration is the only word to cover the work that the director has put into this production, assisted by a sign language coach.
If there are flaws in this show then it is down to the creators rather than the players with songs that might benefit from editing and a compressing of the first act.
Staging is very complex with the plot on three levels and my only complaint was that a little more ingenuity could have been applied to the disposal of the victims from chair to bake house.
Edinburgh Music Theatre’s aim is to produce shows to a professional standard and there is little doubt that this is a production to be proud of.
Runs to Saturday, 7.30pm. Matinee performance on Saturday 2.30pm. Integrated signing at all performances.