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.