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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweeney Todd, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

Sweeney Todd

Dundee Rep
5 out of 5

Confirming its status as Scotland's first theatre of musicals, Dundee Rep gives a modern-dress take on Stephen Sondheim's story of the demon barber of Fleet Street that is as stunning in its musical accomplishment as it is exemplary in its stagecraft.

James Brining's production reminds you that, for all its throat-slashing gore, Sweeney Todd owes as much to the arc of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy as it does to Victorian melodrama. Like Macbeth, the murderous Todd is defeated by the same compulsion that brought him greatness in the first place.

Played by David Birrell, he is a figure of unruffled determination. Far from being a music-hall villain, he is cool and enigmatic, a self-contained obsessive, focused on revenge. Like a gambler, he takes no pleasure in his victories, and engages emotionally with others only to the extent that it serves his chilling purposes. He also sings beautifully.

The same is true of the entire large cast, from star performers such as Ann Louise Ross playing Todd's partner-in-pies Mrs Lovett, to cameo turns such as Richard Conlon playing rival barber Pirelli. As an ensemble, under the musical direction of Hilary Brooks, they tackle Sondheim's complex, inter-weaving melodies with awesome force.

All this is performed with the 10-strong band high up on a gantry against the exposed back wall of the theatre. Designer Colin Richmond places the action in and around a set of shipping containers, avoiding the usual cliches of 19th-century London – this is a dirty, industrial city of unhygienic back-street cafes and back-of-the-lorry salesmen; a place where the rich wield power over a disenfranchised poor.

Keeping pace with the through-composed score as it switches from bedlam to bedroom, the seamless production is rich, vivid and rewarding.

Until 12 June. Box office: 01382 223530.
© Mark Fisher 2010

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