South Coast Choral and Arts Society (SCCAS)
Victor Harbor Town Hall
Until 27 May 2017

Review by Linda Edwards

Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical thriller opened in London in 1979 to rave reviews and won that year’s Olivier Award for Best New Musical, and eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. It is rarely presented by community theatres because it is such a challenging and difficult work, and Victor Harbor’s SCCAS deserves recognition for this ambitious choice. The gamble should pay off handsomely because the production is excellent, and full of fun.

The story is essentially a gothic nightmare, but in director JJ Geelen’s production the blood and gore are hinted at through effective lighting rather than being shown gushing onto the stage, and the satire, black humour, and physical comedy are brought to the forefront. The show does not shy away from the dark themes, the brutal poverty of Victorian London, or the constant stream of corpses dispatched through a trapdoor from Sweeney Todd’s barber shop to Mrs Lovett’s pie shop beneath, but it is never gory and the characters and the relationships between them are the main focus.

There is also plenty of brilliant singing to delight audiences. Penny Smith is outstanding as Mrs Lovett, the pie shop owner who ingeniously solves the problem of the high cost of meat for pies by combining it with Todd’s need for revenge for past wrongs. Smith can be hysterically funny, manic at times, and sensitive at others, and she has a knack for the small bits of “business” that make the character such a memorable one. She also has a great voice that easily handles the challenges of this complex role.

Wayne Scotton is equally outstanding as Sweeney Todd, and his powerful voice is well suited to this modern operatic style. He has his sinister moments but never loses audience sympathy because he has been so wronged by the real villain of the piece, Judge Turpin. Todd’s love for his wife and daughter are never in doubt, so we can practically forgive him for going “over the edge” and slitting the odd throat.

Wayne Good is excellent as the judge, and brings the right amount of authority and creepiness to the role. Also impressive are Kiera Turner as Johanna, Andrew Smith as Anthony Hope, Alexandria Aubrey as the beggar woman and Jo Kelly as Tobias. Dylan Rufus is delightfully over-the-top as Pirelli. Jon Grear did well but was occasionally difficult to understand. The singing capabilities of the ensemble range from good to excellent, but a few need more attention to their diction.

The set is perfect, being dark but not overwhelming in its blackness, and including fine details such as a “fire” burning inside a cavernous black oven in which the pies are baked. Its five acting areas are used to great effect. The costumes, designed by Millie Doherty, are exceptional. Musical director and conductor Derek Walter and the dozen or so members of the orchestra add enormously to the production and give it the big sound a show of this nature needs.

This reviewer was delighted to find meat pies (“finger food” size) were for sale at interval and can testify that they are delicious. I didn’t ask what was in them.