As corny as it sounds…. Walking into the Civic Theatre always feels like a dream to me, one that combines the Never Ending Story with that weird episode of the Simpsons where Homer hallucinates on top of a pyramid with a fox. I think you get where I’m coming from when I say it is literally out of this world, and you can’t quite consume it in one glance. Auckland’s little theatrical gemstone was the sleekest place to host the gruesome tale of Sweeney Todd, accompanied by the flawless Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.
Although nothing at all can possibly beat Johnny Depp’s performance as Todd, these opera singers delivered such a highly energetic performance, bringing the play to an impressive new dimension. The 2 and a half hour production was so vivacious, humorous and synchronized, but also offered surprisingly spooky and freaky darker scenes, staying faithful to the original.
Mrs. Lovett was an absolute stand out character for me. This actress swooned the likes of her crazy murderer boyfriend with an amazing voice and terrible pies (worst pies in London, the absolute worst pies in London). Hands down the best assistant killer I’ve ever come to see. Lovett (played by the beautiful Antoinette Holloran) was charismatic, sexy and steamy on stage, living up to her brooding heroine chic character.
Her boyfriend on the other hand…
Ironically casting a bald man as the barber, the actor playing Sweeny Todd had to have been the scariest person in the room. Reminiscent of Rico the Zombie, this actor’s deep voice filled the room powerfully and seductively. Perhaps the comparison to Johnny Depp was just too hard to move away from, but Teddy Tahu Rhodes did not scream Demon Barber of Fleet Street to me. Apart from being extremely demonic in appearance and definitely not someone you’d want to get a close shave from, the un-likable character (duh) filled the room with a deep baritone resonance that was almost uncomfortably airy and nightmarish. The opera singer may not have been the perfect match, but his performance was so captivating, you simply couldn’t look away. The relationship he had with Mrs. Lovett in particular was desperately humorous, and the way he slices his clients necks on top of her pie shop - priceless and absolutely delicious.
Apart from the exceptionally mixed cast, the stage was so satisfying and technically strong, it was easy to forget that you were watching a scripted opera. The set design was redolent of a Polly-Pocket scenario, where the stage would wheel in and out and spin around, creating different atmospheres for each of the scenes. The structures to the sides of the stage were also tiered; creating energized moments under the spotlight and forming interesting pockets of performance between some of the extra cast members. Costume and light design were also of the highest standards for this performance, and the live orchestra was just the cherry on top of the pie.
Directed by the talented Stuart Maunder, this Opera has been a highlight of Auckland’s theatrical year, and once again helps us appreciate the wide range of international theatre and art coming into New Zealand. This masterpiece cannot be missed by anyone, especially the gore lovers out there!!
Book your tickets here.
cred: David Rowland