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by Gemma Purves
posted 14/06/2019

REVIEW: Sweeney Todd @ ICC Sydney

A short run at the International Convention Centre of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd will unfortunately prevent a production with promise reach its full potential; such were the complexities of staging the performance in a strangely ill-suited venue.

Anthony Warlow does a great job as Sweeney Todd the murderous barber of Fleet St, and Gina Riley performs her role as Mrs Lovett with relish, but the limitations of the venue see the orchestra half-submerged to the side of the stage – necessitating the cast to enter via a gangway through the orchestra from stage right. If the orchestra and performers had a chance to iron out the kinks in the transitions and cues the intimate use of the stage could have worked, unfortunately it seemed like further rehearsal was needed.

I won’t dwell too much longer on the venue but suffice to say, if the (relatively) new convention centre is to be used for events of this nature they’ll need to work out a number of quirks. The seats were comfortable but I kept thinking someone next to me was using their mobile phone – no it was just the poorly located emergency lighting. And the smell of pies and chips wafting through the space made it more like being at the football than a concert performance with top tier tickets coming in in excess of 200 dollars.

Looking to the positive, the use of the stage height allowed for an effective use of a two storey set design. As the performance was miked the audio was good, I’d like to think the acoustics of the unusually shaped venue would work well for other performances.

Individually the performers did a good job – a highlight was Jonathan Hickey playing the devoted yet dim Toby and once we reached the delicious duet A Little Bit of Priest you could see how wonderful the show could be with just a few of the minor niggles ironed out.

Sondheim’s score is not the easiest to perform and definitely stretched some performers vocal abilities however this was minor compared to the missed cues and strange banging sounds that came from outside the theatre in the first half. If I found the noise off-putting as an audience member I can only imagine what it was like for the performers.

All said, it was nice to see a new space being utilised but I do hope that going forward issues such as lighting, venue lockouts and allowing food into the performance can be resolved so that they don’t detract from an otherwise enjoyable performance.

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