A Close Shave

Cityscape chats to Kiwi opera star Teddy Tahu Rhodes as he reaches for his straight razor in preparation to take the eponymous role in New Zealand Opera's production of Sondheim's classic musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which plays the Isaac Theatre Royal in October.

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Tell us about the relationship between Sweeney and Mrs Lovett.
It’s kind of a relationship where they need each other really. I think they are two people in this world that have different needs and they just cross each other’s paths; I think in time they get to become very fond of each other. I think throughout there is a genuine affection between to the two of them.

What have you learnt about your character that you didn’t know before taking on the role?
When you think of Sweeney you think of the Demon Barber, but he’s actually quite a tragic and sad man. He’s had a tragic life, so the story of his murderous side is just an extension of his exterior to the real tragedy of his life that has caused him to become the way he is. He’s a man who’s been unjustly imprisoned for 15 years, and had his wife and child taken away from him so the story of him is quite sympathetic I think. It’s a tragedy really.

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What’s your take on Sweeney Todd – ‘Demon Barber’ or misunderstood businessman trying to diversify his brand?
You can’t deny there’s a Demon Barber side of him. Misunderstood businessman is a bit of stretch, but he’s certainly an unjustly persecuted man!

Pies are famous for hiding nasty surprises; what’s your pie horror story?
I don’t have one – I think of pies as being pretty good really! I think if you’ve grown up in New Zealand the pie is quintessentially associated with us in some way. It’s very rare that you get a bad pie – how can you get a bad pie? I think if you stick to the good tried and true mince pie you’ll be pretty safe.

How do you follow someone like Johnny Depp?
I follow a rule that you don’t try and ever be what someone else has done. You just can’t, so I will put my little take on it. I can’t possibly attempt to follow Johnny I’m afraid!

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This is a hugely anticipated production – what can we expect?
It’s a great night of entertainment. Sweeney Todd is a comedy within a great black drama. It’s immensely entertaining, the production is going to look great, and the Isaac Theatre is the perfect setting for the old streets of London – because you’re that close to the stage, it will feel like you’ve been transported back to 18th century England. The cast is amazing and it’s going to be an awesome show, and I’m very excited to be coming back to Christchurch.

Tell us about your favourite scene.
My favourite scene is the very first one, and it’s a scene I’m not necessarily in to the end! The opening overture is so dramatic – with the full ensemble it brings everyone on stage at once, and from the very first note it transports you back to old-world England.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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