The railway arch cavern of the Union, which so many productions have to work against, provides additional atmosphere to Sondheim’s love letter to the decrepit brutality of old London. Combined with a strong ensemble performance, it creates a winning version of the musical.
Emma Francis plays Mrs Lovett with the requisite amount of good humour necessary to bring the audience onside to her cannibalistic plan. Impressive in comedic timing and singing voice, she dominates Sweeney himself (Christopher Howell), who only seems to come alive when singing. Of the other leads, Leon Kay’s Anthony is strong, while Katie Stokes struggles to make anything of the already thin role of Johanna. Stealing as many scenes as possible is Nigel Pilkington, whose unctuously camp Beadle Bamford lifts the whole production.
With the small venue placing the audience so close to the action, the atmosphere is heightened by the ensemble, who excel both vocally and through Sally Brooks’ choreography. While the set design does not allow for a particularly effective barber’s chair/oven combination, Sophie Mosberger’s use of the space available allows for a satisfying climax, with an emergency exit providing a double use for exits of a different kind.
Reviewed for The Stage