A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Review: Sweeney Todd

Eso Theatricals is an English-language theatre company operating in Budapest, who this weekend put on a series of performances of Stephen Sondheim's classic musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I had a passing knowledge of the musical from various sources, but this was my first time seeing it; the performance was in various ways sub-professional, but nevertheless well worth the 3000Ft ticket price and time.

We'll start with the good: Tamás Pál and Dóra Stróbel were fantastic in the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. They both sang and acted well, bringing across the characters of an intelligent but haunted Sweeney and a Mrs. Lovett who is independently psycho but nevertheless driven into true depravity by her love for Sweeney. They bounced off each other magnificently, with "A Little Priest" being unsurprisingly a highlight of the show.

Similarly, Chris Hunter put on a stellar performance as Anthony, while Hans Peterson and Mario Cossu were convincing as the Judge and the Beadle respectively. The music was played well enough not to stand out, which is precisely what is wanted in musical theatre. The lighting was understated, and resisted the temptation to play up to the dramatics of the rest of the piece. (The play did in some parts feel too dramatic, but perhaps that is unavoidable when you're adapting a Victorian penny-dreadful).

The setting was well arranged. We entered to a ghostly organ piece, with various cast members standing in position around a darkened and smoky room with old-fashioned lanterns. The aesthetic of Dark Old London was well captured (though this aesthetic of course belies the fact that the London of the Victorian era was considerably safer than the London of today).

Moving on to the forgivable: the sound was in the early stages poorly balanced, but was corrected within the first ten minutes. Non of the accents even came close to cockney, but with the exception of one obnoxiously-American-accented extra this did not especially hurt the performance. Dóra Stróbel in particular came off as motherly and yet at the same time pragmatic largely as a result of her Hungarian way of speaking. Viktória Pászthy as Johanna was often difficult or even impossible to understand, but ultimately Johanna isn't really an independently interesting character so much as a Ms. McGuffin, so not understanding her hardly detracts from the rest of the play.

Overall I enjoyed the play, and would recommend going to see it were it not for this having been the last showing, and for this blog having o Hungarian readers.

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