Tag Archives: Sweeney Todd

Tooting Arts Club’s Sweeney Todd – 21st March 2015

25 Mar

I was gutted I missed out on seeing Tooting Arts Club’s Sweeney Todd at Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop last year. Sweeney Todd is one of my favourite Sondheim shows and the idea of seeing it in an actual pie shop sounded simply fantastic.

So once a transfer to the West End was announced I just had to book tickets despite a rather steep rise in ticket prices. Harrington’s has now found a temporary home on Shaftesbury Avenue, right next to the Queen’s Theatre. You enter through an unimposing door and quickly find yourself in the theatre bar. This is where the magic starts. The whole room has been decorated with old photos and drawings of barber shops and the like. One frame shows the letter Sweeney Todd sends to Judge Turpin, a prop from the original production which has even been signed by Stephen Sondheim himself.

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The auditorium is a replica of Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop. The audience sits on benches which are fitting for the location but are not going to win a comfort award. The biggest issue with this kind of seating is the view though. Even those seats that are not classed as restricted view will require some turning around and leaning in order to catch all of the action.

However, what the show lacks in comfort it makes up in atmosphere. Watching the story unfold around you really is a unique experience. You might find yourself up close with Sweeney Todd or Mrs. Lovett. Or maybe Tobias will use your head to advertise Pirelli’s miracle elixir.

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Jeremy Secomb leads the cast as Demon Barber of Fleet Street. His Sweeney Todd is dangerous and full of hate. He sees nothing but his need for revenge. Jeremy Secomb sings the challenging score with ease and is by far the most raging Sweeney I have seen so far. That combined with the small space the show is performed in makes his portrayal intense and gripping. Siobhan McCarthy’s Mrs. Lovett is loud, forceful and at times almost cheerful. She is the perfect counterpart for Jeremy Secomb’s angry Sweeney.

The rest of the cast is strong and works well in this site specific production. Especially Nadim Naaman’s Anthony and Zoe Doano’s Johanna are amongst the best portrayals I have seen of both parts.

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One of the things that surprised me the most was the sound. What musical director Benjamin Cox has achieved with just piano, violin and flute is impressive. Those three instruments in combination with eight strong voices definitely do the score justice.

Most murders are pulled off with a sudden burst of red light while Pirelli is strangled in the middle of the audience (literally). The use of red light instead of blood does not make the actions seem less gruesome and brutal and when Sweeney Todd reappears after a murder with blood on his face you can’t help but shiver.

The intimate nature of the performance make key aspects of the story feel even more intense. When Anthony sits next to you yearning for Johanna or Tobias stares straight into your eyes while singing about murder you do experience a deep connection to the characters.

If I could change one thing in this production I would have the performers stay in character when they mingle with the audience before the start of the show and at the end of the interval. Personally I think that would make the whole experience even more gripping and would give the audience a chance to be a part of the world of Sweeney Todd.

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But this is no criticism of the show as it stands and I highly recommend you go and check this production out. If you enjoy Sondheim and want to see one of his most famous shows like you’ve never seen it before you have to visit Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop at its temporary home on Shaftesbury Avenue. And yes, you can get pie and mash there before the start of the show but it needs to be pre-booked so make sure to take that into consideration.

Sweeney Todd at Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop on Shaftesbury Avenue is running until 30th May 2015. Book your tickets here and make sure to check out the work of Tooting Arts Club.

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Theatrical highlights of 2013

25 Dec

It’s that time of year again where I want to take a moment and name my theatrical highlights of the past 12 months. I know a lot of theatre websites and blogs publish their personal “best and worst” but I’ve decided to concentrate on the good things and not name and shame shows and such that were not to my taste.

So here goes, in no particular order. Lets start with my show highlights of 2013.

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Once the musical (Phoenix Theatre)

I admit I had been listening to the soundtrack for months before I first saw the West End production of this show and I kind of knew I was in for a treat when I stepped inside the Phoenix Theatre on a Saturday evening in March. However, I couldn’t have imagined this show would have such a huge impact on my theatre life. Once is by far the most beautiful thing I have seen on a stage for a long time. It’s such a sweet and simple show that touches your heart and soul. I have become a regular at the Phoenix Theatre over the past months and I intend to keep watching and supporting this show. Everyone involved in this production deserves the biggest round of applause for bringing Once to life in London’s West End. Thank you for some of the finest moments I’ve spent in a theatre this year.

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Sweeney Todd (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

This production was everything I hoped it would be and more. A brilliant cast and fantastic staging. This is the way a show like this should be presented to the audience. I was thrilled from start to end.

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The Curious Incident of the dog in the night-time (Apollo Theatre)

This play has been around for a while but it took me until this year to finally go and see it. Having read the book years ago I had no idea how it would be possible to transfer this story to the stage. To say I was amazed after my first visit would be an understatement. I left the theatre completely blown away by the staging, the set and the cast. I really hope this play has a future after the tragic events the other week (thoughts are with everyone affected).

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Bare (Greenwich Theatre)

I went to see this without knowing anything about the show except a few songs. It was one of those “So-and-so is in it so I’m going to see it” kind of visits. What can I say? I loved it. It made me laugh and it made me cry and I wish I could have seen it more than just once.

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Mojo (Harold Pinter Theatre)

I went to see this because I just couldn’t miss out on seeing this cast on stage together. It may not be the strongest play but it was one of my most memorable theatrical evenings of 2013 thanks to the wonderfully talented cast.

Obviously I have seen and enjoyed a lot more shows, some of which I’ve been watching again and again for years. But the five productions above are my stand outs of all new (at least for me) shows I’ve seen this year. Lets go on with my highlights when it comes to performers in 2013. Please note that I’m not only choosing from the list of performers I’ve seen for the first time in 2013. But I am only including performers I have seen on stage this year in one or more productions. Again, this list has no particular order.

Declan Bennett
He is currently playing Guy in Once the musical as well as doing gigs in London (and recently New York) now and then. I could seriously listen to Declan singing for hours. His voice makes my heart smile – as cliché as it may sound.

Heather Headley
For me this lady is a singing goddess, simple as that. I adore her voice and I loved seeing her on stage in The Bodyguard more times than I should possibly admit. I think she’s stunning through and through.

Ryan Molloy
I’ve been following Ryan’s career for the past 6 years and he still manages to amaze me. His voice is incredible and he is one of those people who were just born to be on stage. On top of that he is a wonderful person and I’m happy and proud to call myself a supporter.

Ben Wheeler
Ben has been a swing at Jersey Boys in London for the past six years. Not only is he by far my favourite Tommy DeVito, he has proven that he is one of the most talented and versatile performers this production has ever seen.

Jill Winternitz
I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Dirty Dancing the musical. However, I am a huge fan of this lovely lady. Jill is currently playing Baby in Dirty Dancing at the Piccadilly Theatre and she is one of the reason I find this production hugely enjoyable.

Stephen Ashfield
I haven’t listed The Book of Mormon in my show highlights of 2013 even though I did enjoy the show a lot. I am however a bit tired of the never-ending hype surrounding the production (good for them though, it’s always great to see a show selling well). And when I think about it the real highlight in this show is Stephen. In my eyes he is the star, he is what makes me want to go and see this show again at some point. I’ve been supporting Stephen for a few years now and I have loved him in every single show I’ve seen him in, from Jersey Boys to Legally Blonde, Boy meets Boy, Book of Mormon etc. Stephen is brilliant, full stop.

Ian McIntosh
He never really caught my eye in Rock of Ages. I remember seeing him on stage a few times but for me he didn’t stand out. Then I went and watched The Commitments and he happened to be playing Deco that evening. I was blown away! That voice is quite simply insane and I cannot praise his performance high enough. Ian is a future leading man, I’m absolutely sure of it.

Ben Whishaw
I’ve been dying to see Ben Whishaw on stage ever since I watched Perfume – Story of a Murderer ages ago. So as you can imagine this year has been a dream for me in that sense – Ben appearing in not just one but two plays in the West End. I loved him in Peter and Alice and I was completely stunned watching him in Mojo. It’s very rare to see such an incredibly talented actor on stage, someone who doesn’t just play his part but who seems to truly become the character he is playing.

Luke Treadaway
This man amazed me with his portrayal of Christopher Boone in Curious Incident of the dog in the night-time. His performance was so real and honest – I am still in awe just thinking about it.

And finally I’m adding a group of people to the list because I honestly can’t just name a few of them – these guys and girls are all stars:

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The cast of Once the musical
It’s very rare to see a cast that fits together so incredibly well. This group of people – all incredibly talented individuals – have come together and created something magical at the Phoenix Theatre. As much as I love Once as a show, I absolutely adore its cast and I cannot thank them enough for the music, the laughs and the tears. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And that’s it everyone. There have been a lot more performers who have made me smile, laugh and generally filled my theatre-loving heart with joy. I could try and name them all but we’d still be here next year and I’m sure you all have better things to do than going through a list of names.

All that’s left to do now is to thank all of you for being interested in my blog. Thanks for reading and commenting and thanks for keeping in touch on Twitter. I do hope I have managed to provide at least a few half interesting reviews, interviews and such. I’ll try my best to keep you interested in 2014. I’ve got a few new shows on the agenda soon so there should be new reviews up in the not to far away future.
Please continue to comment and tweet. It’s always lovely to hear from fellow theatregoers and all you people working in the industry.

I hope each and everyone of you is having a wonderful Christmas. Enjoy the last days of 2013 and here’s to a great 2014 full of theatrical fun.

xx

Sweeney Todd at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – 9th November 2013

12 Nov

Sweeney Todd – without a doubt one of Sondheim’s most gruesome musicals – tells the story of Benjamin Barker, the so-called demon barber of Fleet Street. It is one of those shows that requires perfect casting especially for the part of Sweeney to make me enjoy it.

The Royal Exchange Theatre is a unique performing space located in the middle of the Royal Exchange building and configured in the round. This production of Sweeney Todd had its first run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds on a regular stage. To fit the production into the Royal Exchange Theatre the staging had to be changed completely. Since I haven’t seen the show in Leeds I can’t compare the two versions but for me the staging in the round worked perfectly. The setting of the different levels (pie show downstairs, barber shop upstairs for example) is well done in a theatre that due to its nature only offers one stage level.

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David Birrell gives what one might consider to call the performance of a lifetime as Sweeney Todd. Vocally strong he displays layers and layers of emotions – from anger to rage, sadness to despair, moments of joy to madness. His Sweeney is a maniac but he is not a one-dimensional killer. He has his motives – however crazy and out of proportion they may seem – and in order to connect with the character the audience needs to understand these motives. David Birrell manages to draw the audience in and make them actually care for Sweeney Todd. This is exactly how the character needs to be played – I was and still am in awe of David Birrell’s mesmerising performance.

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Gillian Bevan’s Mrs. Lovett is the perfect counterpart for David Birrell’s Sweeney. She plays the character with just the right amount of humour while not losing sight of Mrs. Lovett’s manipulative nature.

I’m impressed by Sebastien Torkia as Adolfo Pirelli. The part involves some tough singing and he manages this effortlessly (or at least he makes it look like that). I’m not sure it is necessary to transform him into a Sasha Baron Cohen / Borat lookalike but it doesn’t hurt the show either.

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Ben Stott is wonderful als Tobias and Michael Peavoy does one of my favourite Sondheim songs of all time justice (Johanna). Speaking of Johanna, I admit I’m not convinced by Niamh Perry in the part of Sweeney’s daughter but that might have to do with the fact that it is by far my least favourite part in the show anyway. I just think her voice seems a bit shrill at times and she doesn’t come across as really innocent and slightly naive which I think is crucial for the part.

Don Gallagher is wonderfully repellent as Judge Turpin – to say I was relieved of being spared of facing him in a certain scene involving a whip is an understatement.

The rest of the cast does a brilliant job. Special mention for Barbara Drennan as Beggar Woman – crazed and manic but not offensive, a perfect portrayal of this small but vital character.

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I like the modern-day setting and think the pre show is a great idea to get people in the mood for this production – I won’t spoil anything by adding more details! Sweeney Todd is not the most melodic show in parts (but then which Sondheim show is?) but it consists of some wonderful harmonies and hearing the score sung by such a talented cast is a real joy.

If you think you have already seen the best production of Sweeney Todd – think again. Sadly this is a strictly limited run but if you want to see how Sweeney Todd should be performed then go and watch the show at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The run finishes on 30th November so you better be quick.

For more info and to book tickets go here.

Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi Theatre – May 2nd 2012, matinee

3 May

For everyone that didn’t know: I am a huge fan of Sondheim’s work! I know his shows don’t appeal to everyone because the music tends to be not very melodic in the common sense and his lyrics can be rather tricky and a bit hard to follow.
But that’s exactly what attracts me to his shows. They are unconventional, very cleverly written and you can’t just sit through them without paying proper attention.

Getting the chance to finally see a production of Sweeney Todd on stage had me quite excited with anticipation.

The story is transported into the 1950s in this production which works fine. It’s still dark and gloomy and the whole atmosphere is just like it should be – a bit uncomfortable and rather creepy at times.

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I admit I couldn’t really imagine Michael Ball as Sweeney Todd. But when I’m wrong I will say so and on this occasion I definitely was. Michael’s Sweeney is angry and vengeful with just the right amount of cynicism. I’m no fan of his voice I have to say but that’s just my personal taste.
His acting is spot on, maybe a bit too exaggerated at times but that doesn’t take anything away from a superb performance.

Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Lovett is a true revelation. She’s definitely the star of the show. Her Mrs. Lovett is funny and likeable despite her dark side. It’s easy to understand how torn she is between her love for Sweeney Todd and the understanding of the gruesome events.

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The whole show is well cast although I did find Lucy May Barker’s Johanna a bit bland. But then that particular character has never been my favourite in the show so it might just be me being biased.
Luke Brady is a very handsome and genuine Anthony and he sings one of my favourite songs in the show beautifully.

I really liked Peter Polycarpou’s Beadle Bamford. It’s not the most outstanding part but he manages to leave an impression.

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John Bowe’s Judge Turpin isn’t to my taste I have to say. I found his acting to be a bit weak next to such strong performances as Michael Ball’s or Imelda Staunton’s. I understand it must be hard to hold your ground in a cast like this but then Peter Polycarpou manages just fine to name just one example.

A special mention goes to Gillian Kirkpatrick as the Beggar Woman. It may look like a small role but when you think about it it’s such a vital part in the storyline. And Gillian Kirkpatrick’s performance is nothing but fantastic.

My overall verdict of this show is short and simple: Amazing! Don’t miss out on this!
It’s a great production of a fantastic piece of theatre. This is Sondheim at his best and every theatregoer should catch this while it’s playing in town.

For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.sweeneytoddwestend.com.

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Upcoming theatre events (a.k.a. stagey nights out)

23 Apr

Do you have a bit of spare time in the next few weeks and want to spend it doing something fabulous? Then maybe one (or more) of these upcoming events are for you.

West End Eurovision 2012 (Dominion Theatre, April 26 2012)

This is a fantastic late night show that pays tribute to the Eurovision Song Contest in true West End style. Several West End shows compete against each other by performing a past Eurovision Song Contest song. This year’s entries are:
39 Steps
Billy Elliot
Les Miserables
Mamma Mia!
Phantom of the Opera
Rock of Ages
Shrek, the musical
Sweeney Todd
Wicked
Wizard of Oz
The celebrity judges of the 2012 West End Eurovision are Tony Blackburn, Kerry Ellis and Stefanie Powers. The evening will be hosted by Gaby Roslin and John Partridge. And as if that wasn’t enough there will be a special guest performance by 2005 UK Eurovision Song Contest entry Javine Hylton.
I attended both the 2010 and the 2011 West End Eurovision and can assure you this event is one not to be missed!
For more information and to book your tickets go to http://www.madtrust.org.uk/west-end-eurovision-ticket-box-office.php?sub=overview.

Scott Garnham Late and Live in Cabaret (The Delfont Room, May 5 2012)

I only discovered the very talented Scott Garnham quite recently through Les Miserables and I was lucky enough to see him as Enjolras on several occasions (he is on again from May 21st to 23rd for anyone that wants to catch him in the part before he leaves the show on June 16th).
This will be Scott’s first solo cabaret and tickets are selling fast. Special guests include Hadley Fraser, Liam Tamne, Jon Hawkins, Laura Tebbutt and Carl Mullaney and the evening will feature two brand new songs written with Tim Prottey-Jones and Steven Luke. And all of this in one of the best cabaret venues in the West End: The Delfont Room.
Book your tickets here: http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/LiveIntheDelfontRoom/ScottGarnhamLateAndLiveInCabaret.asp

West End in Concert (St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, May 20 2012)

This is the first event run by the West End in Concert team. Taking place at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden the evening will see performances by Sabrina Alouche, Lauren Samuels, MiG Ayesa, Adrian Hansel, John Wilding, Tenors of Rock, Scott Garnham, Liam Doyle, Tori Allen-Martin, Lauren Varnham, Mazz Murray, Woman Band, Chloe Hart, Brenda Edwards, Liam Tamne, Ian Carlyle, Victoria Hamilton-Barrit, Sandra Marvin, Ryan Dawson, Lucy Sinclair, Katie Paine, Rebecca Treharne, Parnell Page, Jack Hawitt and Danielle York.
If the bunch of talented performers isn’t enough to convince you to attend then the fantastic location should do the job. St. Paul’s Church is simply a stunning place for concerts.
For tickets go to http://www.seetickets.com/Event/WEST-END-IN-CONCERT-COVENT-GARDEN/St-Paul-s-Church-Covent-Garden/626896.

And in case you don’t want to go home after the concert I suggest you head over to Roadhouse Covent Garden where Bloomfield Avenue will be on stage from 8pm on. There’s free entry before 10pm and you should easily be able to catch at least part of the second set. Check out Bloomfield Avenue here http://www.bloomfieldavenueband.co.uk/. I have seen them on stage various times and have never been disappointed. They are a guarantee for a good night out.