I was slightly nervous about returning to the Union so soon after the barn-stormer that was The Mikado; surely lightening can’t strike Southwark twice, so soon? Ha! This Sweeney Todd is as grimy, gritty, delicious and blood thirsty as one would expect from one of London’s premier fringe venues.
I’d never seen the musical before and I was sitting at the edge of my seat as the plot unravelled, and there I remained until the very end. Sweeney Todd returns from serving time Down Under to discover that his wife is dead and his daughter the ward of the terrifyingly creepy Judge Turpin – the man responsible for his incarceration.
He meets up with Mrs Lovett, who immediately starts giving him the glad-eye, a place to stay and help to re-start his business as a barber. The story fairly clips along, what with sanctimonious judges, murderous intentions, preening policemen, hysterical Italians, maidens in distress and sailors in love.
Relishing every spoken and sung word are a uniformly well-cast cast. Christopher Howell (Ko-Ko in the aforementioned Mikado) carries the show as if it was no weight at all and is matched note for note by an impressively lascivious Emma Francis as Mrs Lovett who fairly slinks around the stage owning every step.
The singing is just a joy, made all the sweeter by the highly appropriate rough and readiness of the set and costume design. Special mentions to Nigel Pilkington (Beadle Bamford), newcomer Katie Stokes (Johanna), Roisin Sullivan (Beggar Woman) and David Krisopher-Brown (Pirelli) whose voices will stay with me for days. Sondheim writes mind-boggling clever melodies, which do almost the opposite of what you are expecting, it is the theatrical equivalent of a high wire act and the cast nail every line.
One has to wonder when one of the other London theatres are going to make director Sasha Regan an offer she can’t refuse – you can only imagine what she could do with a bigger budget and a bigger space. Silly me, there was no need for any nerves - the Union have done it again.