Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Simply Theatre at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking, 15-17 September. Star rating: ***** (5 stars)
It doesn't get much better than Simply Theatre's wartime update on one of the greatest musicals ever written, Stephen Sondheim's bloody masterpiece Sweeney Todd.
Moved forward from Victoriana to the sirens, blitz and bobbies of smoky 1945 London, Alison Lawrence's punchy production hit its stride straight away and stayed on top of Sondheim's difficult material to its murderous end, with the tighter Act II even improving on the first.
Having a well-thought-out split-level set with an open-plan barber's shop on top of Nellie Lovett's gruesome shop-turned-slaughterhouse was a good start but Sweeney would be nothing without two great leads and this classy Woking group had them.
Darren Street, deep-voiced and menacing in the title role, and Sarah Jones, who extracted every bit out of comedy out of one of Sondheim's great creations, the lovesick but equally dangerous Mrs Lovett, worked brilliantly together.
I have not seen the clever word-play of 'A Little Priest' that wittiest of ditties, in which the pair discuss what sort of gentry might fill their pies, better performed, staged or choreographed - and I've seen more Sweeneys than I can shake a stick at! It made for a stunning finale to Act 1.
The other big success was Neil Brown's Pirelli, who played to the crowd as the faux-Italian barber with his phony elixirs and stole every scene he was in. By rumbling Sweeney, his stay was not as long as some as he was first to be bumped off but it was all very drole while it lasted!
Street, Jones and Brown set the bar very high and nobody, absolutely nobody, let the side down.
The eight-strong band under musical director Matt Brown showed a good understanding of Sondheim's complexities.
Joint-choreographers Megan Swaisland and Matt Hough thoroughly deserve a name-check for the busy crowd scenes.
Several nips and tucks were made to the text but the joins were hard to detect even by someone who has seen a multitude of Sweeneys and they kept proceedings down to two and a half hours and all the better for it.