The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
And you can all blame my Uncle, who just happens to be the best one in the world.
I reviewed the National Youth Music Theatre's version (see the review here) in the summer, but I have never seen a full professional production of it before (no offence to the very talented guys in the NYMT!) so you can imagine my indecent levels of excitement when, on my birthday, I opened a card to find an invitation to the Chichester Festival Theatre to see the Demon Barber and his pie-baking accomplice at work...
So off we went! On Thursday! Starring were Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett, and the usually adorable, cuddly Michael Ball as Sweeney. Now I knew she'd be perfect, but I wondered what they were going to do about Michael's instantly loveable features.
I'll show you just what they did; look at this snapshot! > > > > >
Scary. His slicked hair, hollowed eyes and sharp beard really suited Sweeney; and of course Imelda Staunton's little, bawdy, busybody Nelly Lovett complimented him perfectly! She was incredibly funny, adding her own quirks to the already quirky character, but still in fact much darker than, say, Angela Lansbury's rather music hall characterisation in the original cast. Right at the end, when Sweeney pretends to forgive her for deceiving him (before throwing her into the fire) Staunton's Mrs Lovett was still frightened; she knew that she wasn't going to get out of this one, no matter what he said, and it was this genuine fear and realisation of what she has unleashed in him that was so subtle, and yet so central to the character. Ball's Todd had a real East End twang to his voice, something I'd not really heard, and it suited him. He had the right balance of malice, black humour, and finally, psycho, that it needed, and it really struck all the right chords; together, they worked like a dream. I could watch them all day.
What struck me at first was the time frame; Sweeney Todd is set in dark, dirty, Victorian London. This production, however, was set in dark, dirty, blitzed East End London, and the transition was remarkably smooth; 40's London also had buildings that were liable to collapse at any moment (the balcony above the stage looked hauntingly good as a round, tiled, bombed train station), a shortage of food and generally uncertain hygiene among the poor. The new timeline was a fantastic idea, giving it a real edge, and making it stand out vividly from other productions. In the spoken lines some changes had been made ('shillings' to 'quid' e.t.c) but there were still moments where the Victorian shined through; the Judge sentences a man to hang for thieving... Sweeney has been transported for life to Australia... the madhouse is named 'Bedlam'; and it is of course the madhouse, that quintessentially Victorian obsession, that is the biggest sticking point. Those horrific asylums had moved on considerably by the Forties, with the First World War sparking research into mental health, but really, the rest of the tale is so filled with horror, that historical accuracy stops making a difference. If Johanna must be sent to a madhouse, by God, it is going to be a recognisably nightmarish one!
It's coming to London! Hurrah! Chichester (who have been hogging it for far too long, in my opinion) have let us have it! I will be constantly checking theatre sites and gearing up my Sondheim buddy - everyone needs one - for a trip.
West End Girl x
(becoming a bit of a misnomer... promise I'll be back in London next time!)