Sweeney Todd: The Panto

Fri 7th – Sat 22nd August 2015

reviews

Holly Willis

at 09:51 on 11th Aug 2015

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Sweeney Todd: The Panto, presented by the Bristol University Pantomime Society, is an often bewildering, and utterly bonkers take on Sondheim’s musical. With Mrs Lovett transformed into a pantomime dame, and no meat pies anywhere to be seen, this show is a tame version of the original that strives for humour with varying levels of success.

Sondheim’s classic songs are exchanged for popular tunes and original lyrics, featuring a quirky duet from Disney’s Frozen and a raucous rendition of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to name but a few. The show has a strong, promising start and moments of comic brilliance. After the first few scenes, however, the standard declines somewhat and the plot becomes more and more baffling.

The acting is of a mixed standard, and some performances stand out a mile. Kane Walpole is delightfully saucy as Mrs Lovett, whilst Alex Peers portrays a fabulously blustering Turpin. The star of the show is Zoe Sadler as Anthony, by a mile. Her stage presence is energetic without being over the top, and her singing voice is stunning. Her talent makes the show feel miscast, as she easily outshines leading lady Lucy (Lucy Harries). Harries’ singing voice is tuneful, but simply not cut out to sing something as ambitious as ‘Love is an Open Door’; Sadler’s on the other hand is rich and strong, and deserves much more airtime. Alice Sarah portrays dopey servant Bamford with great gusto, but could do with pulling back a little to avoid her performance becoming grating.

The pantomime element of the show is disappointingly lacking. There are a few half-hearted attempts at ‘oh no he isn’t’ moments, and of course there is the addition of a pantomime dame, but overall it feels more like a comic rewrite rather than a pantomime. The classic ‘he’s behind you’ does not crop up once. Seeing as the show is sold as a ‘panto’, it seems odd that there is not more emphasis on what should be a fundamental dimension of the show – particularly for a group that calls itself a ‘Pantomime Society’.

Sweeney Todd: The Panto is an entertaining and confusing mixture of the good, the bad, and the very camp. It is fun, but lacking in crucial areas, most noticeably in its lacklustre effort at converting Sondheim’s haunting musical into a pantomime. Whilst I would deem some parts well worth seeing, others detract from the quality of the performance. It is an interesting idea and there are a select few outstanding performances, but this show is not something I would go out of my way to see.

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Simon Fearn

at 10:22 on 11th Aug 2015

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Ever thought that Sweeney Todd, a tale of cannibalism, mass murder and revenge, would work much better as a panto? Bristol Pantomime Society (surely one of the more interesting student theatre societies) brings you just that, with Mrs Lovett as the pantomime dame! It’s an interesting idea, but although the production shows some imagination, the execution leaves a little to be desired, and the show is hampered by an amateurish feel.

Occasionally the play works quite well as a Sweeney Todd spoof. There are some fabulous lines such as “Anthony, stop harmonising with me” and “you song-singing bastard”. Todd is quite a silly character when you think about it, and much is made of his sulky intensity. The trouble is that some of the jokes that do deserve a bigger laugh don’t get it because of poor delivery.

As the show progresses, it could really have done with a full blooded rendition of ‘The Worst Pies in London’ or ‘Pretty Women’, but Sondheim’s music is unfortunately absent. The songs that the group did knock out were both awful in themselves (a mix between cheesy pop renditions and cringe-worthy new material) and often disappointingly sung, although ‘Eye of the Tiger’ belted out in a bad Italian accent is actually rather funny. There were problems with the volume of the background music and the performers projecting properly in the theatre-in-the-round setting, but this got better as the show progressed.

The acting walked a thin line between purposefully hammy and plain bad, but the leads were generally strong. Luke Barratt-Bentley was a jittery Todd and did melodramatic well, although Kane Walpole was underwhelming as the Mrs Lovett, the Dame. Alice Sarah managed to overdo it a bit as Turpin’s servant Bamford, which in a pantomime is rather impressive.

The humour was all a little contrived, relying mostly on elaborate visual puns which were more likely to lead to groans, or grudging smirks at most, rather than fits of laughter. Some of the more bawdy humour was also rather lazy, and jokes about London hipsters and Edinburgh flyering felt a little strained. There was a great gag where Todd was faced with various other Johnny Depp incarnations which should have gone down a treat, but was let down by a pretty bad impression of the Mad Hatter by Chris Jones.

The show works great as a student production, and it’s ideally suited to undergraduates after a few drinks. It fares less well in the middle of the day at Edinburgh. It’s entertaining enough, but there are much funnier shows you could catch instead.

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