chapter  4
21 Pages

The throat that swallows

ByAaron C. Thomas

Sweeney Todd is most notably a musical about murder and cannibalism. The theatre has been interested in cannibalism from its earliest incarnations, and the meanings of cannibalism in the theatre have changed a great deal over time. The Thyestes presents cannibalism as incomparable barbarism, an atrocity from which even the gods hide their faces. Titus Andronicus links cannibalism to revenge in a way that is similar to Sweeney. On the contrary, the 'Ballad' describes the Sweeney of legend, the Sweeney who sends rats scuttling with a glance, who threatens to cut Tobias's throat from ear to ear. The musical, as Raymond Knapp sees it, is an extension of Sweeney's own dark sensibilities, and so it seems virtually inevitable that his death at the end does not truly finish him. Sweeney has seemed to many a show without optimism, a portrait of an industrialized world in which freedom is not possible and everything bends towards destruction.