Sweeney Todd, which I caught most of last night, was good in an Actors going about their Acting Business with lots of Pauses way, and Ray Winstone’s wobbly hurt face very effective, but I couldn’t help thinking that the demon barber of Fleet Street was slightly poorly served by a treatment that sought to explain him, and explain him not even in terms of the morality of his times but in terms of his upbringing and psychology. Not that these should be off-limits for a fictional character, but Sweeney Todd’s roots are in thrill-power, not psychology.

The most famous product of the 19th century Penny Dreadful, his appeal – as last night’s most effective scenes showed – sits firmly in the grotesque. The Sweeney Todd story combines two horror tales in one: the barber who slits his customers’ throats, and the pies made with human meat. Last night’s adaptation played the former to the full and underplayed the latter: we never saw anyone eating a human pie, or reacting to one. From what I’ve read of the original penny dreadfuls though, the pies are crucial, source of many black comedy scenes as they become an enormous London hit. The adaptors last night weren’t looking for comedy, though, and you got the idea the flesh-pies were a grand guignol touch too far for a drama about psychology and psychosis. But the pies are also a high-impact way for the original Todd story’s moral purpose to come through – that London is a web of interconnections in which corruption and complicity can spread everywhere, very quickly. Fine though the lead performance was, last night’s character study sacrificed that.