From today's Scotsman - Joyce McMillan's review of The Demon Barber-
The story of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, has
always ranked high in the annals of English horror, and it's easy
enough to see why. In the legend of Sweeney - who slaughters his
customers with a cut-throat razor, and lets them slide down through a trapdoor into the pie-shop of the comely Mrs Lovett below - several primal fears come together, from fear of submission to the barber's gleaming blade, to fear of life in a pitiless, teeming urban world where human beings are more valuable dead than alive. You won't, though, find any attempt to explore the deeper undertones of the story - or to explain its powerful continuing appeal for theatre
artists and film-makers - in Graham McLaren's colourful but
superficial stage version at Perth, with live music by singer-
songwriter Mike Marra.
Once again - as in his version of Phaedra for Theatre Babel a few
years ago - McLaren proves himself a master of design, rather than
direction. The show's greatest asset is its teetering three-storey
set, which features a ramshackle old Fleet Street house ranging
upwards from the pie-shop entrance at street level, through Sweeney's spectacularly red-painted barber's shop on the first floor and up to Marra's three-piece band, groaning away Tom-Waits-style in the attic.
What happens on the set, though, comes across as a pretty aimless
journey through the evil and the sensational, part fashionable
theatrical exercise in Punch and Judy-style grand guignol, part pure,
vulgar pantomime. In the show's one memorable touch, Kevin
McMonagle's Sweeney emerges more as a lovelorn suitor besotted by Mrs Lovett's charms than as a born murderer - an unloved man driven mad by a glimpse of possible joy. But the usually excellent Gabriel
Quigley gabbles her way through the stereotyped wicked-lady role of
Mrs Lovett in such an extreme Mockney accent that half of what she
says goes for nothing.
The other characters - from Tobias the transvestite pie-boy to
Thornhill the murdered sea-captain - mug their way through their
roughly-drawn roles with an increasing air of desperation. Marra's
wry songs are also difficult to appreciate fully on a single hearing.
The overall effect is sometimes strangely like one of those adult
pantos with added dirty jokes. There's sex and violence, all right,
crudely evoked and sent up; but when the point of it all remains so
obscure, it can seem tedious.
and from The Courier
The Demon Barber
By Joy Watters at Perth Theatre
THE LIGHTS go up but there is still a threatening darkness. A tall
dark house emerges from the gloom with wisps of fog surrounding it.
The setting for this tale of unspeakable acts is complete.
Sweeney Todd has inspired a number of adaptations, including
Now Perth Theatre associate artist Graham McLaren presents his
version, which he has written, directed and designed.
His starting point is a "penny dreadful" story about Todd accompanied
by a score by Michael Marra.
McLaren's design is outstanding, creating a portrait of 18th century
London, oozing with crime and corruption, that chills the onlooker.
Shaven headed men with chalk white faces menacingly people the stage,
while Kai Fischer's lighting threateningly suggests the evil that
lurks in every shadow.
Sweeney Todd is shown as a malformed outcast—he is given a poignant
reading by Kevin McMonagle, as a man deeply in love. In this version,
there is something of the Cyrano about him and he cuts his first
throat in defence of a lady's honour.
His love, Mrs Lovett, the tart with a heart of ice, becomes his
accomplice. While Gabriel Quigley looks the part, her words often
vanish upwards, lost in the ether.
McLaren begins with storytelling, raising expectations, but then his
script descends into knockabout comedy, innuendo and sweary words to
get a laugh.
At some points, it feels like a curtain-raiser to the panto season.
The three-piece band comprising composer Michael Marra, John Sampson
and Bill Murdoch are perched high on the roof of Sweeney's premises,
and sometimes again the words of the grimly humorous songs are lost
While McLaren's designing and directing talents are a cut above, the
writing is disappointing, falling between wit and slapstick.
And from The Herald -
Me I really enjoyed it, Michael Marra songs and performance of the same are worth the admission money. Go and see it you will not be
disappointed. I am going back to see it again!