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Mr Monkey sees Sweeney Todd at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Studio
Start date: 1st November 2013
End date : 30th November 2013
Visit date : 5th November, 2013
His skin was pale and his eye was odd : Sweeney Todd (David Birrell) thinks of things to do with razors (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Studio to see Sweeney Todd : the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Mr Monkey looking at the Sweeney Todd poster
Mr Monkey had seen a version of Sweeney Todd that wasn't the Sondheim musical at the Lowry back in 2010 and had really enjoyed it, so he was interested to see how the musical version compared.

However, Mr Monkey has to admit that it was with trepidation that he took his seat as he isn't really a big fan of musicals.

Sweeney Todd, the murderous barber, first appeared in print in a magazine serial The String of Pearls - A Romance between November 1846 and March 1847. The first stage adaptation appeared in 1847, before the serial had been fully published. The story has been dramatised for the stage, radio and cinema several times since.

Stephen Sondheim's "dark operetta" was first performed in 1979 to great critical acclaim, and has been revived many times since. This production was originally performed on a conventional stage in Leeds, and has been redesigned to fit the Royal Exchange's theatre in the round.

This production has abandoned the usual Victorian trappings for an indeterminate modern setting - after the invention of the television and the Reliant Regal van, at least - with a marvellously grimy cafe and, at the end, a truly terrifying furnace. Mr Monkey wondered a little how Judge Tirpin was able to have Todd transported to Australia, but he decided it didn't matter.

The Exchange doesn't have enough space beneath the stage for Sweeney's victims to be dropped from the barber's chair, so instead the chair glides offstage bearing a victim and returns empty. Mr Monkey found this most sinister and eerie.

Mr Monkey was very impressed by the small group providing the music, which gave the production a slightly Kurt Weilish sound that he really enjoyed. The percussion, which was in a room outside the stage area, and the performers on the stage had to use television screens to follow the conductor who was located with the rest of the musicians on the first balcony. All performed excellently and together as one unit, overcoming any problems this may have caused.

The show starts with singing and continues with very little direct speech. Mr Monkey felt that some of the songs went on a little more than was strictly necessary after the point had been made. The nature of the theatre in the round and the fact that the cast wore microphones meant that on a couple of occasions where the cast were facing away it was difficult to tell who was singing.

Nevertheless the storytelling was strong and engaging, for most of the production the pace was fast enough to hold the attention and at times the action was frightening enough to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. There were very strong performances all round from an excellent cast.

Mr Monkey enjoyed Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street despite the fact that it involves people singing instead of talking. This is a strong and exhuberant production and is worth going to see if you want an entertaining and gripping night out.
Sweeney Todd (David Birrell) studies Judge Tirpin's (Don Gallagher) throat (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber runs until 30th November 2013.

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