The sheer exhilaration, nerves and excitement of an opening night for both audience and cast is a great evening out, and last night’s production of Sweeney Todd by Platform 9 at the beautiful Buxton Opera House had me grinning more than the unnerving barber himself.

Sweeney Todd is a gore-soaked revenge tragedy with hunger at its core. Hunger is reflective of a community theatre group’s drive and blood as sweat and tears go into making a show happen. This process usually takes months and, in this case, it was two rehearsals a week for seven weeks.

For people who love theatre, being a part of a community show is an unforgettable time. It’s about abandoning the worries of holding your own in an industry that is unsteady and highly competitive. Instead, you collectively and simply enjoy the thrill of it all. This kind of theatre is also the playground for new talent, seasoned performers, and those who just love to sing and perform for fun. That’s a really amazing mix of people to bring a show together. This is why they sell so well, because your nan and your best mate want to see you enjoying yourself and they can’t believe how brave you are to get up and do that in the first place.

At the helm of this production are strong leads, but no one can drive a sinking ship and that means the ensemble are seamless and serve the story with incredible voices in unison while dipping into incidental characters. As director and choreographer, Paul Kerryson says in the programme that Stephen Sondheim’s rich mix of characters and story “provides an opportunity to showcase the abundance of local talent”. You feel like each individual performer’s theatrical journey has been considered and because of that there is a large cast committed and loyal to the cause, giving everyone involved – production and audience – a wonderful experience.

The main characters deliver high quality, heartfelt performances. James Rockey’s cutting vitriolic tones as the demon barber Todd are complimented by Jennifer Hague’s sweet-voiced deceptions and excellent comic timing. They work together in a dark harmony as they slice and mince their way through the necks and rumps of London, with beady eyes on revenge and prosperity. 

Prior to the show, I had only seen the film of Sweeney Todd and hadn’t realised that even the serious elements of the story have a tongue-in-cheekiness that this production really brought out. However, I was unsure as to the era it was set in and it would, I think, benefit from a few costume adjustments for clarification. Having said that, there were some charming tricks and treats in the design, with the barber’s chair both hilarious and alarming.

The Opera House was packed and the audience were glorious. All hail theatre rising from the ashes of Covid with dancing on the streets, singing to the gods, rustling of sweets, queues for the loos, and fags outside. It’s all up and running again. Business as usual Mr Todd.

By Cathy Crabb

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Buxton Opera House