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,
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.