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Monday, August 11, 2014


(Jason Ralph & Charon Williams-Ros. Pic by Val Adamson)

KickstArt triumphantly pulls off their most challenging project to date. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Durban’s celebrated KickstArt theatre company has triumphantly pulled off their most challenging project to date with their production of Sweeney Todd in all its complexities, from humour and poignancy to the spine-chilling or explosively dramatic.

Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics for Sweeney Todd, is an international musical theatre legend whose numerous collaborative works include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies, A Little Night Music, and Candide. He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy.

Sweeney Todd (subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) and Candide, along with Sweet Charity, formed the groundbreaking trilogy presented by the late Geoffrey Sutherland at the Playhouse in Durban in 1989.

Sweeney Todd, which is taken from an adaptation by Christopher Bond of the book by Hugh Wheeler, won both the Tony Award and the Olivier Award when it was first produced in 1979, and is now also a major motion picture by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

It’s a dark story about a barber who was wrongfully deported to Australia because a lascivious judge craved his wife and trumped up a false charge against him to get him out of the way. He returns to London and sets up a barber shop, aided and abetted by the wily Mrs Lovett. He is bent on vicious revenge and she devises a dastardly solution.

As the story takes place in the backstreets of London in the mid 1880’s, this is not a setting than can reflect much light or colour. So darkness prevails here as well. Greg King has created an impressive set without taking away from the period and one of its cleverest aspects is the moving roof of Todd’s barbershop. Tina le Roux’s lighting is highly successful in achieving the moods.

Under Steven Stead’s strong direction, effective costumes designed by Neil Stuart Harris and musical direction by Shelley McLean and Justin Southey as well as good sound design by Jackie Cunniffe, this production could hold its head high on an international stage.

Jason Ralph puts in a riveting and powerful performance as Sweeney Todd strongly matched by Sharon Williams-Ros as Mrs Lovett, her comedy skills offsetting the evil nature of their actions. Lyle Buxton and Sanli Jooste play the young lovers with a charming honesty and Bryan Hiles is an endearing Tobias Ragg. Good to see Richard Salmon in an acting role as Judge Turpin with Darren King as the fussy Beadle. Danilo Antonelli was amusing as the bogus Italian barber and Katy Moore gave a strong performance as the Beggar Woman.

Memorable moments included Ralph and Salmon’s Pretty Women, Brian Hiles’s Not While I’m Around and Buxton and Jooste’s Kiss Me while King was hilarious in the Parlour Songs.  Williams-Ros was a delight in By the Sea as well as in A Little Priest with Ralph as they discuss the make-up of the pies they will sell.

The show received the most uproarious and spontaneous standing ovation I have ever heard from a Durban first night theatre audience, which says it all. Even if you’ve never heard of Stephen Sondheim or don’t know his music or this production, if you love horror stories you will revel in this!

Sweeney Todd runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until August 24. Booking is through Computicket. For block bookings of 10 or more, or sold performances and early bird specials, contact Ailsa Windsor of Going Places on 083 250 2690 or – Caroline Smart

NB: It is recommended that no U15s see this production.