What could be more apt than a production of Sweeney Todd that takes places in a pie shop? In an ingenious collaboration Tooting Arts Club has teamed up with Harrington’s, one of Britain’s oldest pie and mash shops, to stage a thrillingly atmospheric rendition of the Sondheim classic. Lit mainly by candlelight, the audience of just 32 are chillingly transported to the backstreets of Dickensian London. It is an intense and intimate experience as the formidable cast of eight clamber onto the tables, the shop counter and even descend from the built-in stairwell, to consume Mrs Lovett’s human mince pies. When Sweeney’s murderous razor glistens and swings just inches away from your face it adds a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘a close shave.’
Starting in the barber shop across the road, we were then ushered to Harrington’s, where the decor of this institution (which has been proudly serving pies to residents of Tooting for the over 100 years) remains largely unchanged. Evocative of London’s past, Tooting Arts Club recounted with great aplomb the sinister tale of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber with a cut-throat lust for revenge.
With Sweeney’s throat-slitting antics occurring in such close proximity, as an audience member you can’t help but flinch and wince as he enacts his revenge; you aren’t just passively witnessing the crimes, you feel implicated, almost as if somehow you are partially responsible. I particularly enjoyed the clever way in which bloodshed was implied with a flash of red light or the sound of a train whistle. Which not only intensified the overall experience but if anything made it more frightening.
Jeremy Secomb, is a dark and haunting Sweeney with a forlorn glint in his eye. His straight-laced and composed nature was juxtaposed superbly by his rambunctious and outspoken partner in crime, Mrs Lovett. The production really hits its stride during Mrs Lovett’s opening number ‘Worst Pies in London’ . As Lovett, Siobhan McCarthy exudes charisma, and when coupled with her exquisite vocals, knowing looks and natural flair for comedy, she is a real joy to watch.
This version of Sweeney Todd is so much more than a finely executed piece of site-specific theatre. It is gritty, comical and a charming musical thriller, if you are going to sample one of Harrington’s renowned pies, I’d advise you to do so before the show, as you may not have quite the same appetite on the way home.
Sweeney Todd is playing at Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop until 29 November. For tickets and more information, see the Tooting Arts Club website.