Tag Archives: Don Gallagher

Sweeney Todd at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – 9th November 2013

12 Nov

Sweeney Todd – without a doubt one of Sondheim’s most gruesome musicals – tells the story of Benjamin Barker, the so-called demon barber of Fleet Street. It is one of those shows that requires perfect casting especially for the part of Sweeney to make me enjoy it.

The Royal Exchange Theatre is a unique performing space located in the middle of the Royal Exchange building and configured in the round. This production of Sweeney Todd had its first run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds on a regular stage. To fit the production into the Royal Exchange Theatre the staging had to be changed completely. Since I haven’t seen the show in Leeds I can’t compare the two versions but for me the staging in the round worked perfectly. The setting of the different levels (pie show downstairs, barber shop upstairs for example) is well done in a theatre that due to its nature only offers one stage level.

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David Birrell gives what one might consider to call the performance of a lifetime as Sweeney Todd. Vocally strong he displays layers and layers of emotions – from anger to rage, sadness to despair, moments of joy to madness. His Sweeney is a maniac but he is not a one-dimensional killer. He has his motives – however crazy and out of proportion they may seem – and in order to connect with the character the audience needs to understand these motives. David Birrell manages to draw the audience in and make them actually care for Sweeney Todd. This is exactly how the character needs to be played – I was and still am in awe of David Birrell’s mesmerising performance.

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Gillian Bevan’s Mrs. Lovett is the perfect counterpart for David Birrell’s Sweeney. She plays the character with just the right amount of humour while not losing sight of Mrs. Lovett’s manipulative nature.

I’m impressed by Sebastien Torkia as Adolfo Pirelli. The part involves some tough singing and he manages this effortlessly (or at least he makes it look like that). I’m not sure it is necessary to transform him into a Sasha Baron Cohen / Borat lookalike but it doesn’t hurt the show either.

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Ben Stott is wonderful als Tobias and Michael Peavoy does one of my favourite Sondheim songs of all time justice (Johanna). Speaking of Johanna, I admit I’m not convinced by Niamh Perry in the part of Sweeney’s daughter but that might have to do with the fact that it is by far my least favourite part in the show anyway. I just think her voice seems a bit shrill at times and she doesn’t come across as really innocent and slightly naive which I think is crucial for the part.

Don Gallagher is wonderfully repellent as Judge Turpin – to say I was relieved of being spared of facing him in a certain scene involving a whip is an understatement.

The rest of the cast does a brilliant job. Special mention for Barbara Drennan as Beggar Woman – crazed and manic but not offensive, a perfect portrayal of this small but vital character.

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I like the modern-day setting and think the pre show is a great idea to get people in the mood for this production – I won’t spoil anything by adding more details! Sweeney Todd is not the most melodic show in parts (but then which Sondheim show is?) but it consists of some wonderful harmonies and hearing the score sung by such a talented cast is a real joy.

If you think you have already seen the best production of Sweeney Todd – think again. Sadly this is a strictly limited run but if you want to see how Sweeney Todd should be performed then go and watch the show at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The run finishes on 30th November so you better be quick.

For more info and to book tickets go here.

Goodbye Priscilla – Queen of the desert – December 31st 2011

5 Jan

I remember running into Matthew Cole at the last performance of Never Forget – The Take That Musical and him mentioning that he was going into a new show in the West End: Priscilla – Queen oft he desert. Having never seen the movie my reaction was something along the line of “Is that the new jukebox show with lots of drag queens?”. Of course I had heard of the show opening in Spring 2009 but I hadn’t paid much attention so far.

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I’m writing this about three years later after attending the final performance of Priscilla in the West End on New Year’s Eve 2011. And although I haven’t been a totally devoted fan and hardcore regular I did manage to see the show 25 times during its run. I can hear some of you saying: But that’s a lot, you definitely are a regular! Yes, watching the same production 25 times is more than most theatergoers will ever commit to. But I know for certain that a lot of you Priscillaholics have seen the show twice that many times (or more). So, let’s say I am a supporter of the show but not a die-hard fan.

Being a supporter ment I definitely wouldn’t miss out on coming along for Priscilla’s last journey. So that was my New Year’s Eve sorted then.

The atmosphere inside the theatre was absolutely buzzing right from the start of the show. There were cheers and clapping throughout the show – and I mean the enthusiastic and fun cheers, not the annoying cheers you sometimes get at the most inappropriate moments of shows. Even though the closure of a show is rarely a fun occasion the audience definitely wanted to make the most of this evening and show their appreciation to everyone involved in the production.

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A great audience usually helps to bring out the very best in the cast’s performance. Though I doubt the cast would have needed any help in that department. The energy on stage was stunning – you could feel that everyone in the cast gave his and her all and wanted this show to be one to remember. And it worked as I can safely say I will always be happy and proud to mention that I was there for the last journey of the pink bus.

Oliver Thornton has been with the show right from the start and as much as I enjoyed seeing other performers play Adam/Felicia (amongst them Matthew Cole who I have known for years and generally love to see on stage) no one was able to capture the role so absolutely perfectly. Adam/Felicia is such a loud, extravagant and camp person yet there is also something vulnerable about him. To portray the character without losing touch of this vulnerable side is something Oliver has managed exceptionally well. It does help that he has a body like a Greek God, a fantastic voice, great comic timing and is all around nice to look at. 😉
His reaction to the (well deserved) full standing ovation during the complete Kylie Medley shows how much the part and the show means to him – I honestly thought the guy wouldn’t be able to sing at all. But he did and my God, that was the best I’ve ever seen and heard him. Pure emotion and just a bright star on stage at the Palace Theatre – Oliver, I salute you!

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I have never really warmed to Richard Grieve’s Tick I have to admit. He was good – I don’t deny that. It’s just that I have seen quite a few other performers in the part that I thought were more suited both acting wise and vocally. For me Hugo Harold-Harrison will always be Tick. The guy was perfect in the part and he and Oliver were by far my favourite on stage duo in this show. Richard definitely delivered the best performance out of the times I’ve seen him in this show. He seemed quite moved by the audience’s reaction as well.

Don Gallagher managed to really grow on me during his time in the show. I will always have a soft spot for Tony Sheldon who just had that special sparkle as Bernadette. However I was glad they found such a worthy actor to take over from Tony.

The whole cast was on such a high that night. I did spot a couple of tears in the opening number and by the end of the show there was hardly a dry eye on stage.
A special mention goes to the fabulous Steven Cleverly. I have admired those legs for the the past three years and I’m not ashamed to admit that. The guy looks absolutely stunning in drag – a lot of women would kill for looks like that!
The second person I’d like to mention is John Brannoch (who is responsible for one of my two appearances on stage in that show). John has always stood out for me in the cast. He’s a brilliant dancer and is a really expressive dancer. Shame I never managed to see him as Bernadette.

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Priscilla is such a feel good show. No matter what my mood was when I entered the theatre I could always be certain that I would leave with a smile on my face. And that’s one of the things I will miss: The uplifting atmosphere this show provided. The West End will be a bit less colorful without the pink bus. Shows come and go and Priscilla has had a good run but this is one of the shows that leave a big hole in the heart of the West End and are hard to replace. Drag queens, divas, half naked guys, a mix of the best pop and party song classics there are, a pink bus, cupcake costumes, a run over Teletubby…. The show certainly was quite something!

Priscilla will be missed by many fans. But the memories of the journey to the heart of fabulous remain thanks to everyone involved in the production. So thank you to everyone on stage and off stage. It’s thanks to you so many people have been able to escape the often dark and gloomy everyday life for a few hours. This show has provided me with some fantastic memories that I shall cherish forever. Priscilla may be gone but the memories remain.

Farewell Priscilla, you were the Queen of the West End!

Video by the extremely talented John Brannoch.