Earlier this year, English National Opera produced Sondheim's gruesome musical Sweeney Todd at the London Coliseum as a 'semi-staged performance', starring Bryn Terfel, the biggest opera singer to emerge from Wales. Now Welsh National Opera (WNO) are staging the same piece in an entirely different, fully-staged production at Wales Millennium Centre, prior to a UK tour. It's actually the full staging that the WNO provide for this production that is one of its main strengths. Whereas in London there was an orchestra on stage which hampered movement at times and limited the amount of scenery used, WNO place their orchestra back in the pit and utilise Colin Richmond's set design across the whole canvas on stage. Sweeney's barber shop is shown upstairs above Mrs Lovett's pie shop (where some of his victims end up!) and there's a very effective lid-like roof – often, as one part of the set closes another opens, which helps create a seamless fluidity between scenes and locations.

For this production of Sweeney – the first ever musical that WNO have staged – the casting is largely from the operatic world, although some of the cast have experience in musicals. As Sweeney, German born David Arnsperger has a deep and dark voice that is perfect for the role of the demon barber and with his head shaved he looks the part too. But the sense of Todd's descent into pure madness and terror needs to be further let loose in order for him to make more impact. Janis Kelly's Mrs Lovett is far removed from the incredibly comedic performance of Emma Thompson at the Coliseum – but Kelly brings different strengths to the role. Again, her operatic background ensures that the role is sung very musically, with less emphasis on the colloquial dialogue as a result. The audience can almost ‘see’ the thoughts formulating in her mind, as the wily Lovett comes up with the idea of turning Sweeney's victims into delicious pies, and there's a real sexual frisson between the pair when the partnership takes off.

The main flaw with James Brining's production is that it is unnecessarily set in the late 1970s/early 1980s and has a 'madness' theme and concept, opening bleakily in the asylum where Sweeney's daughter Johanna is later sent by wicked Judge Turpin. This rather confusing strategy removes the piece slightly from its original time and location which is in detriment to the storytelling. Very low-powered amplification hampers the effect of the piece in a large theatre too – and the musical tempo could be increased by a notch to heighten the theatricality of the piece.

George Ure's Tobias – one of the few in the cast from a musicals background – conveys his boyish innocence which then turns to concern for Lovett as he realises the truth of the situation. Charlotte Page is almost unrecognisable as a curly-permed, scruffy Beggar Woman – a far cry from her last Sondheim escapade in Follies earlier this year – and Paul Charles Clarke's Pirelli has plenty of pizzazz thanks to a bright costume and showbiz entrance, matching his over-the-top personality. With evocative lighting, and relatively small amounts of blood spurting from Sweeney’s victims, this production is a good enough introduction to the work, but doesn’t break new ground.