Sweeney Todd: His Life, Times and Execution!
  • By Rob Marks
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  • 20th Aug 2009
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  • ★★★★★

The sights, smells and sounds of eighteenth century London live on in the Gilded Balloon’s Debating Hall. The cast warmly welcome you into a smoky, straw-strewn room, clutching you by the hand and offering shots of gin. It’s Monday. It’s 2.15. It’s hanging time. In one hour’s time the fiendish barber of Fleet Street will be strung up for your viewing pleasure. But before the main event, this gruesome group of players want to show you how Sweeney came to be minutes away from the noose.First things first: this is not the Sondheim musical. It is not based on the Sondheim musical. In fact, with the exception of part of the title, there is no correlation between the Sondheim musical and this show. Finger in the Pie have created a whole new take on the Sweeney story with its roots in Vaudeville, German expressionism and silent comedy. It’s a delightful, funny and macabre piece that boasts a dazzlingly alliterative script and professional technical wizardry well beyond the average Fringe show. The ensemble cast is excellent. Made up like Heath Ledger’s Joker, they each play a number of roles, as well as a variety of musical instruments. The piece requires accomplished physical performances that the cast respond to gleefully. They’re like Gremlins: delighted by their wickedness, determined to involve the audience in their games and desperate to corrupt the virtuous. Which is where Frank Wurzinger’s Sweeny Todd comes in. Gone is the bass-rumble of a broken man wronged by a judge all those years ago. Instead, Sweeney is now a boyish mute, whose life takes the shape of a Harold Lloyd or Chaplin film. His tragedy is not his pride or rage, but merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time… occasionally with razor blades. It’s an excellent and very watchable performance, remarkable for how much it tugs on the audience’s heartstrings despite the fact he never utters a word.The technical elements of the production are as much characters in their own right as the excellent ensemble. Under a flickering amber candlelight that washes over the stage, we meet a young boy Sweeney puppet, who quakes in fear at the decadent world around him. Ingenious shadow puppetry and expressionistic short film sequences play onto a decaying yellowed screen. It’s a testament to Alexander Parsonage’s direction that these moments never feel gimmicky or gratuitous but instead act as another tool to depict the depravity of London in greater depth.My only problem with this production is that it’s too short. I would have happily sat through another half-hour whilst this grisly gang told more of Sweeney’s story. The humour is pitch-black and wryly observed, the ensemble work tight and professional and the production is always surprising and genuinely enjoyable. A cut above the rest.

The Blurb

Witness the terrible tale of Sweeney Todd, then watch him hang before your very eyes! Finger in the Pie present an hilarious black comedy of slapstick humour, grotesque characters, physical storytelling, puppetry and live cabaret music.