Victorian Vices – Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls

From the corridors of a modern hotel we enter Victorian London in this immersive musical theatre piece. Crafted with flair by writer/director Dave Spencer, Victorian Vices: Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls offers an imaginative new take on the well-known tale of the murderous barber and the woman who cooked the victims into pies. It’s promenade style – there is no fixed seating and audience members are encouraged to meander around and follow the action – although there are seats available for those who need them.

These roving performers are always in character and never completely distract from the action, although there are always many places to look with so much going on.

The attention to detail in the set is stunning: the large space has a number of different performance areas and many fascinating elements. Much of the action takes place at the premises of Sweeney Todd’s barber shop (where there’s even a taxidermied animal), and next door at Mrs Lovett’s pies (complete with meat grinder and freshly baked pies).

We become bystanders and at times are even drawn into the action as extras. Beware of pickpockets. Grog-seeking streetwalkers kept taking the lemonade bottle from the side pocket of my bag in hopes it was gin. These roving performers are always in character and never completely distract from the action, although there are always many places to look with so much going on.

Idgie Beau and Jonathan R Parsonage are exceptional as the depraved lovers Mrs Lovett and Sweeney Todd and both are talented singers. The story is told out of sequence and thus we see their relationship clearly: how Lovett uses Todd’s desires to manipulate him and how Todd is torn by his feelings for her. Beau and Parsonage have the chemistry necessary to make this passion believable and at times, it’s quite voyeuristic to watch. At one point they end up rolling around amorously on the floor and we scuttled out of the way lest they began making love right on top of us. I felt the love story of Marcus and Johanna (Ryan Harding and Lucy Oliver, both delightful in their roles) got slightly lost – it might be that it’s hard to match the outrageousness of the Todd/Lovett story, or could be simply due to the fact that I was standing quite far from their playing space.

The music – accordion, clarinet, violin and flute performed by Abi Gardener, Bryony Jean, Charlotte Kennedy and Rachel Morgan – transports us. Composed by musical director Jo Turner, the sound is folksy and bawdy. The cast’s singing is wonderful, although at the points when I was towards the back of the audience and close to the band, I found it hard to hear all the lyrics.

The sense of atmosphere created is very strong and I’d love to see this as a site-adaptive piece installed in historic surrounds. Another Soup’s production of Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls is an immersive experience that is imaginative, striking and highly enjoyable.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

London, 1859. Holborn's shameless streets are awash with unsavoury individuals, wiling away their lives practicing the variously sordid Victorian vices of the times. On Fleet Street, Mr Sweeney Todd runs a reputable barbershop, shearing the whiskers of the gentry and clergy of London town. His sweetheart, Mrs Cornelia Lovett, spends her days managing an ailing pie shop, constantly on the brink of bankruptcy and plagued by belligerent bailiffs. What will they do to survive? Original, immersive promenade musical. **** for A Hundred Minus One Day and Sleeping Beauty (BroadwayBaby.com).

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