Sweeney Todd

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Theatre Editor CAITLIN DOHERTY gets blinded by the pies into enjoying something she definitely shouldn't.

Fitzpatrick Hall, 1st – 5th November, 7.45pm, £5-6

Dir. Anthony Woodman

Musical Dir. Jeremy Cole


BATS’ production of Sweeney Todd was – by a long way – the worst piece of theatre I’ve ever seen. Ever. And, precisely because of this, it was completely fucking brilliant.

Musicals staged by college drama societies have a hard time of it. There’s not much money for the ol’ razzle dazzle and the best singers and dancers of the student body have usually been tempted off into mainshows equipped with the moneys for bigger publicity drives by the time that casting even begins. Such seemed the case with this production, whose performers demonstrated varying levels of competence, but no brilliance, at least not in the usual musical way.

The decision to costume the chorus in (presumably their own) smart grey tops and black trousers, when coupled with three of the male leads’ terrible fitting suits and ‘zany’ purple ties, gave the whole thing the feel of one of those disgusting Halifax adverts, but without Howard’s ‘redeeming’ charisma.

The Beadle’s (played by Hiroshi Amako) stance was perpetually that of a man trying to sell you an unwanted hands-free set in Carphone Warehouse: awkward smile, hands clasped over the crotch in a paralipsis of desexualized commercial exchange, arched forwards in very squeaky, very shiny shoes.

Sweeney Todd (Mike Craddock) himself made me think of how my A-Level chemistry teacher might have looked if he’d gone to a fancy dress party as a paler version of Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. Barbers are, evidently, renowned for their fidelity to the skinny black tie. I think Judge Turpin (Laurence Williams) was actually wearing a zoot suit.

There was no chemistry between any of the performers. The blocking lurched consistently between ridiculously uncomfortable cross-stage angles or entirely static delivery. I’m aware that it’s not a useful criticism to describe lighting as ‘just wrong’ but this production leaves me with no other option: the stage was either plunged into darkness during speech or the wrong people were lit up in the kind of neon-orange glow that’s usually accompanied by Bruce Willis screaming that there’s only x number of seconds left until the place blows.

So what redeems this production to the level of awarding it five whole stars? Pretty simply, its unapologetically amateur approach. Not a single one of the main performers (with the exception, perhaps of Lorna Reader as Mrs Lovett who under a better director could have been a West End style matron figure) could act, but by God they were trying.

I’ve seen plays in Cambridge that were so bad they were offensive; not because of the cast’s inability, but rather the pretensions of professionalism on behalf of the production and the failure to understand that if you want your drama to be taken seriously then you have to give some thought to the political message it bears. Sweeney Todd has none of this attitude. It’s like watching a school play – it endears itself to you by virtue of the cast’s unceasing endeavor. It’s also unintentionally hilarious.

The set is so badly designed that when Sweeney finally starts killing his customers in his special barber’s chair, he actually has to lift their ‘limp’ bodies out of the seat, push them to the back of the platform and then give them a kick to get them offstage. The fight scenes are like watching people who’ve never used their arms before try to give each other hugs. Judge Turpin’s performance seems modeled purely on the infantilized murderer from Psychoville. The chorus come onstage in the Bedlam scene dressed as zombies. ZOMBIES, for God’s sake – in this production, the mentally ill are presented as extras from a George A Romero film. Which, for me, is miles less offensive than asking untrained performers, without the time to properly research the medical and historical background of Bedlam, to try and act like someone sent crazy by the incessant spinning of cotton looms.

Sometimes, Cambridge drama can be guilty of taking itself just a bit too seriously. In the rush to impersonate commercial theatre, it’s important that there’s room for silly rubbish too, and Sweeney Todd is just that. Have a drink, go with friends and support some college drama. On top of everything else, the musicians are obviously very talented people who deserve a good audience.

All that there now remains for me to exclaim, eyes glistening and surrounded by a chorus of twenty year olds dressed as mortgage advisers while I forcefully brandish a cut throat razor, is that this review, like Sweeney Todd’s right arm, “is COMPLEEEEETE!”

  • Theatregoer

    I'm confused by this review

  • Shahrouz

    Band needed more Bontempi.

    • another reviewer

      Are you actually saying that they need an Italian-manufactured, low-priced, chord organ? Wow. Niche.

  • Good writer

    Lady, you are wasted on theatre reviews. I hereby nominate you for the next columnist. (You can replace Sophie Thorpe. PLEASE!)

  • Felix

    This review is so postmodern, I just love it. I think I read a paper on this.

  • what…

    a really snide way to write a review.

    • LOL

      Stop crying

  • Just sayin'

    Completely fair enough that this play should be filed under so-bad-it's-good and that you should encourage people to go and see it but giving it five stars kind of demeans the five-star rating particularly given that you've held back on giving so many genuinely professional and enjoyable shows a five star rating.

    But a well-written review as always.

  • Sweeney2k11.

    You've completely missed the point of the show.

    • MmmBopTheDooWOP

      ………………there was a point? really? what was it? TELL ME NOW

  • The Chairman

    I watched this on the opening night, this review just made me laugh out loud in a lecture! By far the best and most accurate review I’ve ever read in the tab. With the exception that some of them were very fine singers, when they stood still…

  • Oi MD

    Where was the fucking orchestra?

  • Anonymous

    You seem to be going back on yourself: you say the musicians are obviously very talented people, yet at the beginning you describe the singers as not particularly good. Either this is a fairly serious inconsistency or you don't consider singers to be musicians…

    • SnuffBox

      the cast were the singers, the musicians obvs. refers to the orchestra who were hidden to the right of the stage………..

  • Amy

    Given that your comments on the singers involved in this production revolve around the superficial – their costumes and general presentation – as opposed to their vocal ability (which it seems you don't know very much about if you cannot recognise how talented this musical's performers actually are), you haven't backed up at all your statement that no brilliance is shown 'in the usual musical way'. Logically unsound and self-consciously sensationalist, this review isn't poor just in the rating that it gives.

    • Locksmith

      I assume 'usual musical way' means 'usual musical [theatre] way' – acting as well as singing. And trying as hard as they were, bless them, hardly anyone in this show could act (Lucy being an exception).

      And being concerned with the costumes isn't 'superficial' – he was wearing a fucking zoot suit!

      • +1 for Locksmith

        Good singers do not guarantee a good musical. The fact is so many of the "actors" here had very little stage presence. Oh and by the way Amy, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover you were a member of the cast/crew or a friend of one of them.

        p.s. "self-consciously sensationalist"?
        That is kind of the point of The Tab you know? It started as a piss-take of a tabloid



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