It would be easy to read too much into Tooting Arts Club’s idea to stage Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in a working pie and mash shop. The musical horror story hinges on the victims of a homicidal barber being grinded into meat pies; by supping greedily at our banquettes, are we, the dining audience, somehow complicit in Todd’s heinous acts? Are we being encouraged to reflect on our own participation in the man-devouring-man machinations of society?
In truth, for the most part, it’s just a lark. Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is a show easily bogged down in a mire of self-seriousness; here’s a wild romp of a treatment that brings the story closer to its tatty origins as a penny dreadful and (as Sondheim first encountered it) a laugh-aplenty pub comedy. As with the wholesome pre-show pies on offer (there is also a vegetarian option), this Sweeney Todd washes down relatively easy.
Still, it’s hardly the stuff of dinner theatre. In the story, a former barber (Jeremy Secomb) slinks into 19th-century London after a long undeserved imprisonment, hell-bent on revenge and calling himself ‘Sweeney Todd’. Partnering with his former landlady, the slatternly Mrs. Nellie Lovett (a twistedly effervescent Siobhán McCarthy), he is reunited with his barber’s razors—which appear to him to be gleaming with impatience—and soon goes about his dastardly, deadly business.
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