SUPAS’ Sweeney Todd – Sheffield University Drama Studio, 26 April 2023

Review by Jacob Bush.

Sweeney Todd, telling the story of the barber released from prison determined to seek revenge on the people who have taken his family from him, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most challenging musicals musically, dramatically and with regards to staging. SUPAS have done an admirable job at staging this classic musical, boasting some West End standard performances and the biggest set I have ever seen for a student production of a show.

Harry Reeves directs the production and he uses every inch of space on stage that the venue gives him. He ensures all the characters feel completely human, although some moments of comedy could have been capitalised on a little more. Zara Walton choreographs the show and has found more moments of dance in Sweeney Todd than anyone has before. The inclusion of Stan Smith and Nancy Rutter in dancing roles as the Barker and Lucy of decades gone was a fantastic decision, and Smith and Rutter danced beautifully. The large orchestra under the direction of Beth Pugh and Coby Brown sound terrific and one could easily thing they’d paid for a group of professional musicians – they haven’t, the student body of the University of Sheffield is clearly just incredibly talented.

CJ Simon leads the cast entirely professionally in the title role. He could easily walk into a production of the show at the Crucible or on the West End and wouldn’t seem to out of place. He delivers flawless vocals and humanises the role, making the audience understand Sweeney’s motivation rather than just portraying him as a pure villain as can often be done. Alice Copestick plays Mrs Lovett and is also great. Her vocals are sublime and she never leans too far into the OTT – she ensures Mrs Lovett is always seen as human, although at times she could lean into the comedic or the sinister a little more than she does.

Nathan Sloane as the true villain of the show, Judge Turpin, gives a very strong performance. His vocals are outstanding and he makes the audience feel perfectly uncomfortable. Lucy Forsyth and her makeup team have done a great job at ageing him up, meaning the age gap between Turpin and Johanna really does come across as authentically as possible.

Shaye Barber is lovely as Johanna. She is very much the traditional ingenue, with a few small moments of strength, but she gives a gorgeous vocal performance with the challenging soprano score. William Leggetter makes a wonderful Anthony Hope opposite her. Their chemistry is believable, and Leggetter’s vocals are powerful.

Alice Bell is a revelation as the Beadle, showcasing her tremendous vocal range. She has a wonderful characterisation and a strong stage presence and completely sells the role despite itbeing written for a male performer. Tobias Ragg is also gender swapped in this production with Abby Lever taking on the role. She does a great job, considering how high this vocal part is for a female performer. At times, her characterisation can feel a little eccentric but her rendition of Not While I’m Around is heart-warming yet heart-breaking at the same time.

Rory O’Shea does a phenomenal job as the short-lived Adolfo Pirelli. His vocals are beautiful, he is funny and his characterisation is perfectly flamboyant and over the time. Lisa England completes the principal cast as the Beggar Woman. England is a true highlight of the production. Her vocals are exceptional, her characterisation is fully committed and believable and her comic timing is impeccable. She added a huge amount of energy to the proceedings every time she appeared on stage.

SUPAS have done a fantastic job at staging the darkly funny Sweeney Todd. There were some minor technical hiccups with microphones being turned on late and the wrong lights being turned on at times, but this will surely be ironed out as the run progresses.

Be sure to catch this very strong production of Sweeney Todd at the University Drama Studio.

before it closes on Saturday

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