Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is a masterpiece, musically tuneful and imaginative, with brilliant lyrics. It was given a first rate performance at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, with David Birrell and Gillian Bevan excelling in the two leading roles. As theatre, the piece is essentially grand guignol and, as such, depends for its effectiveness on recreating the gothic atmosphere and settings of late 19th century London. The decision by the director James Brining to update it to the Thatcherite period in order to reinforce its focus on the victims of capitalism was facile, and irritating, not only because it was gratuitous but also because it gave rise to too many distracting anachronisms. Barber shops and asylums were not like that in the 1970s, nor was the language.