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Sunday, 27 January 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Trailers are often as interesting for what they don't say as what they do: the big secret behind the Sweeney Todd trailer is that this is a musical - as in everyone sings pretty much all the time musical based on the Stephen Sondheim musical type musical. As for why they're keeping this fact under their hat when musicals have been doing pretty well of late... well, presumably a musical with a lot of bright colours and young people dancing around is a lot easier to sell than one that's pretty much all shades of 19th century London grey except when someone's getting their throat cut. As for why Sweeney's slashing necks with toe-tapping abandon, he's not exactly happy about having spent fifteen years overseas in a penal colony after a bent Judge (Alan Rickman) framed him to clear the way for a move on Sweeney's wife. Worse, he returns to London to be told by local pie-shop owner Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter) that his wife's dead and his daughter's been adopted by the Judge. Sweeney's scheme for revenge starts out simple, as he returns to his old trade of barber with the hope that once he gets the Judge in his chair his razors can give him a very close shave. But Sweeney just can't help killing, and once Mrs Lovett gets the idea of disposing of the bodies via her pies, pretty soon both of them are doing a roaring trade. It's a dour story told in melodramatic style, and director Tim Burton doesn't hold back on the spurting blood whenever a throat gets cut. As a musical it's impressive rather than toe-tapping, not to mention that it's fairly heavily edited down from the Sondheim original and the cast are good rather than great at singing. But if you're in the mood for some gothic grandeur, there's no denying that this vast, creaking edifice has a grim power to it that makes it, if not exactly enjoyable, at least a experience that's hard to forget.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #420)

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