I headed back to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley today to see Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. As the below photo demonstrates, there’s nothing architecturally astonishing about the theatre (save for the excessively large and comfortable seats in the auditorium itself).
My principal reason for seeing this production is that I’ve never actually seen a Sondheim musical before, although I’m familiar with the well-known numbers in his repertoire. A secondary motivation was that it stars Jason Donovan. Although the former Neighbours star has had extended runs in Joseph & The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I wasn’t entirely sure that he’d suit Sondheim’s more intellectual and vocally challenging material.
In fact, Donovan was astonishingly good, singing with aplomb and acting superbly as the vengeful barber returning to London to seek his wife and daughter after a wrongful exile. He was ably matched by Harriet Thorpe, best known to me for her appearances in Ab Fab as the dopey Fleur. Having seen her in Mirrorball (Jennifer Saunders’ pilot for a comedy set in the world of London theatre), I knew she had a good set of pipes on her, and this confirmed it.
The staging in this version of Todd is fascinating: all the actors are also musicians and play the entire score on stage, without any visibly obvious sheet music for the most part. Even Thorpe and Donovan did their bit, frequently chiming in on percussion. Donovan also played a guitar part, which fleetingly reminded me of his guitar miming in the video for ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’, which was famously mocked at the time since there’s no obvious guitar in that song.
But he wasn’t miming here, just turning in an excellent performance in a uniformly good ensemble cast. I’ve not had a bad theatre experience on this trip so far, but this was probably the highlight to date. I got the distinct impression that some of the grey-haired zombies in attendance (yes, it was another matinee) weren’t thrilled with the staging approach or the at times complex overlapping lyrics, but they can choke on their dentures. I really enjoyed it.