A great Victorian evening!

Sweeney Todd - Knaresborough Players

MY first thoughts on the story of Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street, London, are whether the story is actually based on true life. Further research reveals it is purely fictional though some like to think otherwise.

This non-musical version is a wonderful tale of Victorian villainy told in melodramatic, atmospheric and convincing fashion.

The Players’ choice was a good one, and gives a large cast of 20 something to really get their teeth into, in more ways than one!

Our lead character, well played in a very nicely understated performance had John Westmancoat as the tormented Sweeney, and his portrayal invokes a certain sympathy with the character despite his wicked deeds. This sympathy carries throughout even though the murders come thick and fast, particularly in the last ten minutes.

His accomplice, Mrs Lovett, piemaker extraordinaire, who’s struggling to make ends meet welcomes a cheaper form of meat to fill her pies, and there’s a brilliant portrayal here from Pauline Bird who looks, sounds and embodies this Dickensian-type character so well.

She cares greatly for the murderous Mr Todd and this on-stage pairing works beautifully.

The whys and wherefores of how Sweeney becomes the murdering barber are set out in the first act as we find out what happened to his wife and daughter, when he leaves England’s shores for awhile.

Revenge is taken as he learns of their supposed poisoning, and the scene is set for a grisly plot which builds nicely.

Along the way, we meet a host of Victorian characters, from the demented poor souls in the lunatic asylum, the urchins and tradespersons of the time to the Beadle (Keith Preece) and the Judge (Kerrie Shields) - two very well well presented and respectful-looking characters.

Full use is made of the auditorium and well chosen music of the time links the scenes so the play moves forward swiftly and fluently.

Mention must be made of excellent performances from youngsters, Edward Leigh as Anthony Hope, the young sailor who rescues Sweeney from the savage seas and later marries his daughter, Johanna (Aisling Given), and also Tobias Ragg, a bright, chirpy character with a love of pies, who unbeknowingly assists in selling them despite their unsavoury content.

Other nice touches come with a darkened stage set, excellent costumes and clever lighting effects; every time a customer’s throat is to be cut, the lights turned red as he or she is tipped off the barber’s chair down to the cellar below , there’s a well staged masked ball and a lovely street scene with Alfredo Pirelli (Rob Rigby) selling his magic elixir for hair restoral much to the crowd’s amusement.

Some atmospheric scenes in the asylum as our heroine, Johanna finds herself in the clutches of Jonas Fogg, (Tim Cave) the wild-looking proprietor, come complete with a gaggle of gruesome females scratching, wailing and wandering the stage.

One final additional twist is added when the beggar woman (a high standard performance from Kathryn Leigh) turns out to be Todd’s long lost wife but alas, she too is a further victim of his muderous doings.

Director Marjorie Newson and her team have done a fantastic job bringing the tale to the stage of the Frazer Theatre managing to evoke a real ‘back in time’ feel to the whole occasion. Even as audiences arrived they were greeted with Victorian ‘ladies’ welcoming them and what a lovely turn from Mike Addison as offical ‘nut seller!’

Maggie Gell