Peter Westbrook, Peter Potter, Bruce Emeny, John Honeywood, Paddy Verstage, Patience Ling, Christine Potter,
Dennis Murfitt, Brenda Chapman, Valerie Taylor, Derek Cobbold, and other volunteers not mentioned.
The story of the demon barber of Fleet Street has been a classic since 1847 and was the feature of
Queen Victoria's first command performance. Mr. Burton's version is laced with both song and humour
in the best of old fashioned melodramatic styles.
The Manifest Theatre Group must have exceeded its wildest hopes with the success of its latest production.
The hall has been transformed into a delightful open stage theatre by the building of a tiered auditorium with
real tip us theatre seats giving perfect vision to the whole stage, and the composite set which embraces a
barber’s shop, prison, street scene and graveyard is made credible by clever lighting.
But it is the production itself that impresses most. Dennis Murfitt’s production team of Valerie Taylor and
Vivienne Wheatley have tackled the problem of producing a cast of 19 amateur actors in a melodrama in a
masterly and sparkling manner.
In any revival of a play written more than 100 years ago it is a temptation to ham it up and generally
overplay the whole action to such an extent that it descends into farce. The group has succeeded brilliantly in
avoiding this pitfall.
There are too many members of the cast to make mention of separate outstanding performances –
every one was executed with a convincing precision that produced a tight, fast moving evening’s entertainments
that was entirely enjoyable.
I was thinking of getting a haircut on Tuesday morning, but by Wednesday the idea was completely out of my mind.
Not because I wanted to preserve my locks but because, on Tuesday evening, I went to the first night of the
Manifest Theatre Group’s latest production, Sweeney Todd the Barber, at the Old British Legion Hall in South Street,
Afterwards, instead of a trim, I decided to stick to my usual routine. However, at Mistley police station –
Horrors! The desk sergeant bore an uncanny resemblance to the schizophrenic barber I had seen the previous night.
But the only ‘crime&rsquo Sgt Dennis Murfitt has to answer for is the reduction in trade local barbers may have
following his convincing portrayal of the murderous Sweeney in the play, whose run ends tomorrow.
In a way it was a pity Mr Murfitt came on first – he immediately gave the production a professionalism which
most of the cast found it a little difficult to live up to and only a few came near him for all-round performance.
This isn’t to say that any of the players could be found lacking but simply that Mr Murfitt had mastered his part so well.
With a little help from colleagues in the gallery he had the audience hissing every time he came on stage –
and they all seemed to revel in a chance to boo at their village bobby.
Mrs Frances Brown must also take a share of the credit. In accordance with Victorian tradition,
women took the part of boys, and the diminutive Mrs Brown took it all so seriously that the only thing her acting
and make-up couldn’t cover was her high-pitched singing voice. This, and her cheeky grin, won the audience over to
her side as the “goodie” of the play. The Dickensian Dr Aminadab Lupin and the tragic Mrs Lovett
(Adrian Rowe and Valerie Taylor) also turned in good performances. Rowe played the doctor of theology –
fond of the very occasional, "for medicinal purposes only", drop of rum and pie – and Val Taylor the pathetic,
confused and eventually dead accomplice of Sweeney.
The rest of the cast managed typical amateur performances and full marks to all of them for effort –
they certainly provided a great evening’s entertainment.
The set was spectacular, not for its detail, but for the ingenuity of its gadgetry. The stage manager's
pièce de resistance was the hand operated barber's chair which swung back on a concealed pivot to send Sweeney's
customers to their doom.
Although far from being the ideal theatre, the hall gives the atmosphere of an old-time playhouse,
especially since the acquisition by the group of proper theatre seats.
Lighting by Mr Bruce Emeny helped convey the various moods of the play, pianist Mrs Paddy Verstace gave the
finishing touch to the atmosphere which I thought had gone for good when the old Ipswich Theatre closed down
earlier this year.