Review: Sweeney Todd, Church Hill Theatre

Warrick Hunter delivers a menacing performance as Sweeney Todd
Warrick Hunter delivers a menacing performance as Sweeney Todd
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The sun might be shining brightly in Edinburgh this week, but things are taking a much darker turn in Morningside as Sweeney Todd sets up his infamous barber shop in the Church Hill Theatre.

****

Stephen Sondheim’s bloodthirsty musical masterpiece tells the tale of Benjamin Barker (aka Sweeney Todd), who has returned to Victorian London having previously been unjustly deported by the scheming Judge Turpin. On the discovery that the judge has also robbed him of his family he sets about plotting his murderous revenge aided by besotted pie-shop owner Mrs Lovett.

It’s a story that has been told many times before on stage and screen, but what sets this adaptation apart from others in a similar vein is the imaginative use of integrated British Sign Language (BSL) throughout the performance.

Rather than delivering the BSL from the side of the stage in the manner that most of us have become accustomed to, The Edinburgh Musical Theatre company have been working under the guidance of BSL lecturer Billy Docherty to move the BSL seamlessly into the centre of the action. This is accomplished using a variety of techniques, ranging from one-on-one interpreters shadowing the main characters to the use of BSL as choreography for the whole company.

For members of the deaf community this approach obviously has massive advantages, allowing the focus to remain on the principle characters without having to continually glance offstage. For everyone else the effect is initially slightly distracting, but soon becomes an integral part of the performance and quickly adds a mesmeric quality to the production.

Warrick Hunter delivers a razor sharp, menacing performance in the title role and Hazel Beattie provides many of the musical highlights as the enterprising pie maker Mrs Lovett. The rest of the cast ably support the main characters and are responsible for much of the evening’s dark humour. Also, a special mention should go to the nine-piece orchestra who were faultless throughout.

But ultimately it is the innovative and memorable use of integrated sign language in this production that makes it a cut above the rest.

Runs until Saturday