chapter  3
19 Pages

The throat that bleeds

ByAaron C. Thomas

This chapter discusses throat slashing, sadism and brutality. During a production of Sweeney at Saint Kentigern College, two 16-year-old boys actually had their throats cut by the teenage actor playing the demon barber. Hal Prince's understanding of Sweeney's violence corresponds to the work of the psychologist Erich Fromm, whose influential theories of human aggression shaped the field of violence studies in the early 1970s. Stephen Sondheim and Wheeler only rarely eroticize the violence in Sweeney Todd. The musical describes the sexual violence in language typical of the 1800s. Sondheim and Wheeler indicate the powerlessness or physical weakness in Sweeney very early in the play, and the characters describe Sweeney's body as one that is dismembered and then reconstituted over the course of the musical. Prince's idea of the factory that produces Sweeney Todds, though, demands that nearly all of the characters in the musical appear incomplete or missing some part of themselves.