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Demon Barber and his sidekick serve up show of the year

09:40 18 July 2012

Imelda Staunton (Mrs Lovett) and Michael Ball (Sweeney Todd). Image by Johann Persson

Imelda Staunton (Mrs Lovett) and Michael Ball (Sweeney Todd). Image by Johann Persson

Archant

Few musicals will send a shiver down your spine in the way that Stephen Sondheim’s sadistic masterpiece Sweeney Todd does.

The combination of a darkly ingenious storyline, hair-raising score and quick-witted script make for a theatrical tour de force that lead actors Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton do absolute justice to.

The pair are immaculate in their depictions of the crazed Todd, left bereft and deranged after losing his beloved wife and daughter to sexual deviant Judge Turpin and Mrs Lovett, the earthy pie shop owner whose callous plan to serve up human meat to her unwitting customers makes her one of the greatest stage concoctions ever to grace the West End.

The tale – supposedly based on a real-life 18th century barber but never fully substantiated - is plucked out of Sondheim’s original Victorian backdrop to an interwar setting.

But despite that not quite working on paper, Jonathan Kent’s pacey, deeply involving and hilarious version more than lives up to the hype after its acclaimed Chichester Theatre run.

TV comic Jason Manford, in a limited summer run, proves he can cut the mustard in his hilarious turn as flamboyant phoney Italian Pirelli.

Ball – most commonly associated with dramatic turns as the gallant, bellowing hero - is simply superb in depicting the mechanisms at work in the mind of one of folklore’s most twisted characters.

Staunton is much more than his sidekick. She represents the very darkest side of the human psyche in her quest for both money and, ultimately, a life with the brute she loves.

This has to be the show of the year.

Sweeney Todd is at the Adelphi Theatre. See www.sweeneytoddwestend.com.

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