Now the amateur company with professional standards has pushed the boundaries by taking on Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning ‘black operetta’ Sweeney Todd, with impressive results.
Sondheim created a devilishly difficult sung-through score for his pitch black 1979 musical about the ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’, packing it with complex counterpoint and moments of delicious dissonance.
But BOST’s cast of strong singers has mastered the composer’s lyrical intricacies, and under the expert eyes of director Elsie Kelly and musical director Tricia Gaskell they deliver them with real confidence.
The ensemble, a Greek chorus of everyday London folk, creates a terrific wall of sound in the opening Ballad of Sweeney Todd, reprised at moments throughout the show, and generates a real sense of drama tinged with an undercurrent of menace.
There’s also latent menace in Tony Prince’s revenge-obsessed barber, all Ludwig van Beethoven locks and powerful bass-baritone delivery.
His lowering, monosyllabic gruffness is beautifully juxtaposed by Gina Phillips’ Mrs Lovett. Phillips is an absolute delight as the morally malleable purveyor of pies, a captivating bundle of energy whether bashing out pastry to make the ‘worst pies in London’ or bashing out a tune on the harmonium.
Still, although she reigns supreme, she’s given a run for her money in the flamboyant character stakes by Chris Simmons’ posturing con artist Pirelli, and by Michael Pearson’s Beadle Bamford.
The first half proves slightly stronger than the second – both dramatically and musically, while the two-storey scaffolding set is rudimentary but serviceable.
But BOST should be rightly proud of its ambitions in continuing to deliver such a wide and challenging variety of work, and to a consistently high standard.