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The CSI idea only relates to the story in that murders are committed; other than that it is nothing more than a shallow director's conceit that gives back less than it takes away. Some elements of the staging could be applauded for their imagination if they were used by a tiny fringe company with no budget but on the main stage of a major regional theatre look strange. Todd's "chair fit for a king" is a cheap secretary's chair that requires his victims to fall out of it and crawl to the entrance to a long steel ramp in their death throes. Mrs Lovett's harmonium, a "fine instrument" according to Beadle Bamford, is one of those toy plastic electronic keyboards that are played like a guitar although Lloyd Gorman gets some genuine fun from using it.
Sweeney Todd—The String of Pearls: The Original Victorian Classic
The one time the actor musician concept seriously intrudes into the action is with the character of Todd. As a violinist, his box of razors is replaced by a violin case containing a violin and differently-sized bows as his razors.
This is an idea that appears fine on paper and even fits nicely with some of the lines "At last, my arm is complete again! When the razors are first returned to him, the dialogue doesn't mention what they are at all and so the fact that they aren't what they are supposed to be is just confusing. Where the production is seriously let down is in the sound.
It is difficult to understand why a trained singer stood only a few feet away from the audience needs to have a mic at all, but sound designer Andy Smith has all of the mics turned up so high that they often distort, even during the dialogue. The overall sound mix is poorly balanced and very muddy, which destroys the subtleties of this glorious music and makes some of the words indistinct.
Sweeney Todd: The Barber of Fleet Street (The classic original!) (English Edition)
Now Barker is back, disguised as Sweeney, with vengeance on his mind in a wonderful looking studio-created London, the work of production designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. The sets are as splendid as those created by Martin Childs and photographed by Peter Deming in From Hell, the Hughes Brothers' film starring Johnny Depp as a Scotland Yard inspector investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, and they too appear to be influenced by Victorian paintings, especially the school of William Frith and the nocturnes of Atkinson Grimshaw and Whistler.
Depp has a ghoulish appearance, his unnatural pallor recalling his first appearance in a Burton film as the eponymous Edward Scissorhands, who has knives and scissors instead of fingers, which under stress turn from delicate instruments of refinement to weapons of bloody destruction. Mrs Lovett, a distraught pale-faced beauty with black rings around her bright eyes, wishes to restore him to normal life.
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But when he kills a blackmailer and she disposes of the body by putting it into the pie, the moral and political dice are cast. His obsessions with avenging the destruction of his family is all-consuming and becomes directed at a whole society. He constructs a special barber's chair to despatch his victims down a chute to the cellar, and it soon becomes an industrial process.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
A major consequence is that Mrs Lovett's pies, once unpleasantly tasteless, become the toast of London, selling like hot cakes. The killing and the cannibalism become a metaphor for cut-throat capitalism and the transformation of our fellow human beings into a disposable consumer commodity. In an extended dream sequence Mrs Lovett creates a light, bright idyllic world where she and Sweeney picnic in the countryside, bathe by the sea, get married and adopt the street orphan Toby as a son.
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This dream is shattered by the barber's obsession and by the depths to which they have sunk. Bloody retribution, melodramatic but tinged with tragedy, inevitably ensues. Before then there has been a deal of incidental humour and two considerable comic performances of a positively Dickensian kind by Timothy Spall as the creepy Beadle Bamford, sly toady to Judge Turpin also Dickensian in style , and Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli, the phoney Italian barber and peddler of elixirs.
The film is jaunty, beautifully rhythmic in its camera movements and editing, extraordinarily rapid without being obtrusively hasty. Two hours were suddenly over and there I was in the foyer eating a warm meat pie, smiling at what I'd been lured into doing. But it's ultimately an exhilarating one.
Related SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET: THE VICTORIAN CLASSIC
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