"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre
by Sondheim standards, this is a challenging piece for any company,
amateur or otherwise. Often operatic in its style and in the demands
it makes on its singers, especially the chorus.
Hunt's excellent ensemble responded magnificently, boldly navigating
the reefs and rapids of the score, and always visually effective,
whether as masked revellers, lunatics, bathing belles, black-backed
gulls or assorted Londoners. I liked the Pirelli bounce, but standing
and delivering diagonally worked well, too, as did the backward
glance on the Fleet Street exit.
show opened with pools of red [not much actual gore in this version]
and a London Peculiar, as a couple of coppers start the familiar narrative.
principals in particular manage the tricky double of music and
melodrama: Kerry Cooke is a magnificent corseted Mrs Lovett, and
Louise Byrne excels in the smaller, but crucial, role of the
mysterious Beggar Woman. Ian Southgate, too, was a confident Anthony,
deftly delivering solos, duets and those tricky quartets, as he
strives to rescue his Johanna [Lauren Ramshaw] from the clutches of
the creepy Turpin [Hugh Godfrey]. Less assured vocally, but a
strong dramatic presence, was David Pridige as the dark-eyed,
brooding Benjamin Barker [aka Todd], driven by his desire for
vengeance. Strong support from David Ward's Beadle – excellently
sung and impressively acted – from Joanna Hunt as Tobias and Rick
McGeough as the devious mountebank Pirelli.
small space was very effectively used, from the dumb-show back-story
to the quick and the dead returning for the final chorus. A
four-sided truck – complete with antique chair and chute – was a
versatile stage, even becoming the end of the pier for the By The Sea
unseen orchestra was directed from the keyboard by Adrian Ure, who
did an excellent job of bringing Sondheim's ballads, songs and
snatches to life.