Tag Archives: Steph Coleman



Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 13th March, 2018


Stephen Sondheim’s grisly melodrama is not an easy sing, with its discords and broken rhythms as well as its searing, melodic phrases.  And yet Walsall Operatic Society pull off the intricacies of the score with apparent ease.  The singing here is very strong, from both the chorus and the main characters.  Musical director Ian Room has certainly put the work in to create such a sound.

Where this lavish and enthusiastic production comes up disappointing is during the dialogue scenes.  Here things fall flat with actors merely going through the motions.  They hit their marks, get their words out but fail to convince.  This is a general criticism and of course, one size does not fit all.

As the titular ‘demon’ barber, Richard Poynton has his moments of melodramatic grandeur and posturing but Steph Coleman’s Mrs Lovett acts rings around him.  Coleman is a delight, bringing life to her characterisation.  Simon Docherty’s Judge Turpin lacks presence and Nick Hardy’s Beadle struggles with the Sondheim.  Meg Hardy’s Johanna sings in a sweet soprano and makes for a spirited damsel in distress, while Christopher Room’s heroic Anthony has the best voice of the lot for this type of show – he just needs to bring the same verve and intensity to his spoken lines.  Young Neo Hughes gets off to a grand start as Tobias, bilking a crowd, but it seems when he takes off his wig, Samson-like, he loses his strength.  Katy Ball is a suitably disturbed Beggar Woman; she just looks a bit too clean, that’s all!

Also, it’s a particularly bloodless show – in terms of emotional engagement and in terms of the red stuff.  There’s not a drop to be had.  Like Mrs Lovett’s pies, these people are all crust and no filling.  There is also precious little of London in the delivery.  Fleet Street might as well be in Brownhills.  Director Tim Jones shies away from the horror, which is as important an ingredient in this story as any other.  Sweeney Todd without the gore is only half-baked.


On his Todd: Richard Poynton


Wake-up Call

Ingestre Hall, Staffordshire, Tuesday 5th June, 2012

Frank Wedekind practically invented the teenager with his controversial play in 1892. What the characters go through in two hours would fill six months of Hollyoaks. In 2006, the play was adapted into a rock musical, retaining the original late 19th century German setting. The idea is that the modern music shows us how relevant the issues and ordeals are to teens and parents today. It could be argued that Wedekind’s original does the job well enough on its own but the musical has given the work a new lease of life and introduced it to a new audience.

“Sajja Arts” brings the musical to a rather grandiose venue, former stately home, Ingestre Hall. It is not traditionally a space for theatre. The wooden panels of the Hall lend themselves well to the stuffy school setting and the persistence of tradition but on the whole, I found the performance at odds with the room. It is not a good fit.

Director Richard Poynton opts for a traverse staging. The audience is divided into two sets of rows facing each other across a central strip of performance space. At one end is a mound of old books; at the other a stylised representation of a cornfield. There are problems with sightlines. I was on the end of the second row and when things were happening in the cornfield area I couldn’t see at all. If the actors sat on the floor, forget it. With traverse, you either have to rake the seating so the audience is looking over each other’s heads rather than trying to look through them, or you have to raise the ends of the performance space, or else half the action is lost. It’s all very well if you’re on a front row. Not much cop for anyone else.

There are also big problems with sound. This was opening night so I hope this can be addressed for the rest of the run. The singing is swamped by the backing tracks. Soloists are overwhelmed by backing singers. It is such a shame. The score by Ducan Sheik is stirring and atmospheric but Steven Sater’s lyrics are all but lost.

It is a pity when the cast are working so hard and trying to demonstrate their talents. Ryan Gilbody is a handsome but po-faced Melchior, the school know-it-all. He has good stage presence and an expressive and versatile singing voice – when the staging allows us to see and hear him, that is. Kris J Davis impresses as twitchy, troubled Moritz whose failure at school leads to suicide. Hannah Wyss captures Wendler’s innocence but unfortunately most of her sweet singing is drowned out by the poor sound mix. The rest of the ensemble depict the growing sensuality of adolescence with conviction and humour. For example, Lee Powell’s Georg has a piano lesson with some very funny Carry On style faces. Strongest of the bunch for me was Annie Blackwell’s Martha, whose vocals soared above the rest. Her solo about abuse at the hands (and belt buckle) of her father was a particularly powerful moment.

Able support is given by Steph Coleman who plays all the adult women, with the director himself playing all the adult men. The suggestion is that all grown-ups are the same in their failure to communicate with their offspring or charges. The play is a plea for openness about sex and sex education. Anti-liberal education and puritanical parenting lead to disasters: teen pregnancy, suicide, death by backstreet abortion… I came away impressed by the cast, but frustrated by the venue that got in their way.