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Sweeney slays 'em

You know that you’re in for an evening of exquisite theatre from the first unnerving chords as Roger Kirk’s meticulously-crafted cobblestoned, consumption-riddled streets of 18th century London come to life with its rheumy-eyed waifs and downtrodden inhabitants.

New Zealand Opera’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is the killer (literally) culture fix Christchurch has been patiently waiting for, combining powerhouse performances with lavish costuming, accompanied by an en pointe Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and a set so grittily-real that you wouldn’t be surprised if a swarm of rats marched out into the opulence of the Isaac Theatre Royal. Props also for a cunning barber’s chair design which doubles as a macabre amusement park ride, dispatching corpses to the bakery below.

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With the most recent high-profile production of this Sondheim smash in most minds still that of the Tim Burton trifecta rounded out by the mega-wattage of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, the New Zealand Opera had big shoes to fill, but director Stuart Maunder has succeeded taking the beloved fable to new levels, and it's all infused with a live performance joie de vivre that simply cannot be captured on film – no matter who’s on screen.

Pitch perfect casting sees the towering talent of local boy made good/global opera sensation Teddy Tahu Rhodes returning to London to seek revenge after being banged up abroad for 15 years on “trumped up charges” in the titular role. Tahu Rhodes’ hulking menace is a tour-de-force. His deep, booming baritone voice prickles the skin with gooseflesh, while his measured performance offers a glimpse of the wounded man wielding the straight razor.

As his partner in gory crime, Antoinette Halloran is a revelation as the saucy, sassy opportunistic pie-making Mrs Lovett, and the chemistry between the leads is electric. Other notable performances include Phillip Rhodes’ self-flagellating Judge Turpin, leather-clad tyrant Andrew Glover as Beadle Bamford and Joel Granger, the hollow-cheeked urchin Tobias Ragg who has the misfortune of having to rock a Donald Trump-esque rug that’s more roadkill than coiffe. But it’s Helen Medlyn's sublime turn as the tattered Beggar Woman who steals the show.

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It’s pure class right through to the thrilling finale, and entirely deserving of the thunderous applause and whoops of delight.

Images: David Rowland

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
12 – 15 October
Isaac Theatre Royal

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