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A closer look at the cast of Teatru Manoel's Sweeney Todd

A closer look at the cast of Teatru Manoel's Sweeney Todd

Roger Tirazona and Kateriana Fenech will be playing two of the main roles in Teatru Manoel’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, being performed between the 17 and 24 July. Here they give their take about the two unsavoury characters they portray

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the dark tale of Benjamin Barker, an innocent barber whose happy life with his wife and baby daughter is ruined by the jealousy of a cruel judge, and how this in turn leads to a string of murders in Victorian London. The musical by the musical genius Stephen Sondheim, who passed away last year, is based on a play written in 1973, which was in turn based on the original story serialised in Victorian times.

Sweeney Todd is one of the darkest characters in musical theatre, but although he is referred to as a demon, Roger Tirazona, who will be taking on the role of the murderous barber, opines that nobody is born a monster.

“As an Ethics teacher, this is a topic that interests me,” he explains. “The word ‘demon’ refers to the personification of pure evil, but also to internal traumas a person may be fighting. Todd’s trauma transforms him from Benjamin Barker, a gentle barber and family man, to Sweeney Todd, a man who is completely desensitised from his humanity and obsessed with vengeance. The only times we see glimpses of the old Barker is when he remembers his long gone past.”

Knowing that Sweeney Todd is a product of the corrupt system which victimised him is crucial in understanding his motives, but the same cannot be said of Todd’s sidekick Nellie Lovett. “On the surface, she is a baker and widow who has fallen on hard times; a comic character within a tragedy,” says Kateriana Fenech, who is clearly relishing her role. “But she is most definitely not innocent, and she manipulates and actively schemes to improve her situation with little care for human life.”

Although Mrs Lovett is a willing accomplice of Todd, her character provides some much-needed comic relief in what would otherwise be too grim a tale. “She presents her ideas in such a macabre and matter-of-fact way that it makes them terrifyingly funny. Think Squid Games meets Hansel and Gretel black humour,” she shares. “I am especially fond of Mrs Lovett – I really enjoy playing this character because, rather than just being a comic theatrical device, she has darker characteristics.”

The role, however, comes with a set of challenges for Fenech. “It is traditionally played by singing actors and, as an opera singer, I have to resist the natural desire to make the vocal timbre ‘beautiful’,” Fenech explains. “Mrs Lovett isn’t supposed to sound polished. That said: on the odd occasion she shows softness, it is reflected in the musical score, and this gives me the chance to let the lyrical voice shine through.

“Sweeney Todd is very much a company effort, with each character playing an important part of the narrative, including the chorus who deliver an almighty wave of sound,” adds Fenech. “I must also acknowledge Teatru Manoel’s courage to stage what many consider to be Stephen Sondheim’s magnum opus as its first in-house musical, which is no mean feat.”

Tirazona acknowledges that some people may hesitate to watch a show featuring a serial killer due its dark nature. “Every aspect of the show is stylised, including any scenes with violence,” he says. “This is why the rating of the show is a very accessible one. We even have minors in the cast, so we were very sensitive in that regard.”

He adds that people should come watch Sweeney Todd because it is one of the greatest operas written in the 20th century. “I am honoured to be part of its team and we are truly working hard to give the show its due and the audiences what they deserve – an exciting night out in the comfort of a climate-controlled Teatru Manoel!”

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will be showing at Teatru Manoel between 17 and 24 July. Admission age is 12+.

Tickets can be purchased at booking.teatrumanoel.com.mt