Magazine article The Sondheim Review

God, That's Good!: The Pie Shop Sweeney Todd's West End Transfer Delighted All the Senses

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

God, That's Good!: The Pie Shop Sweeney Todd's West End Transfer Delighted All the Senses

Article excerpt

London has certainly made up for the chilly reception it gave Hal Prince's original West End production of Sweeney Todd in 1980. With numerous revivals of varying scope and size, the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical once again returned to London's commercial theatre district (March 12-June 5, 2015), a mere three years after Jonathan Kent's Olivier-winning production and concurrent with the English National Opera staging starring Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson.

Located inconspicuously in what can best be described as a hole in the wall between the Gielgud and Queens Theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, this Sweeney Todd used only eight actors and three musicians. The production took place in a working pie shop, where audience members could actually have pre-show pie and mash. The run quickly sold out due to the size of the venue (its seating capacity was 69) and it was extended by three weeks. However, this wasn't just some sort of "Teeny Todd"; it was utterly terrifying and raucous fun.

The production originated at Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop in Tooting, a south London neighborhood, courtesy of the Tooting Arts Club, which specializes in site-specific theatre (see a review in TSR's Summer 2015 issue). The return engagement came about during a casual lunch between Sondheim and Cameron Mackintosh at the composer's New York City residence. According to program notes, Mackintosh expressed his regrets at missing the show, and Sondheim informed him that TAC producer Rachel Edwards was eager to have another go. The shop was unavailable due to renovations, so Mackintosh found the production's second home: the former Avalon club, slated to become an upscale restaurant in summer 2015.

This staging, more environmental than immersive, was directed with inventiveness and razor-sharp focus by Bill Buckhurst. We were seated in the pie shop at four long tables on uncomfortable benches with the garish industrial lighting of a roadside diner. Actors greeted us for a bit of small talk and gave us a few ground rules, namely to keep the tabletops clear. At intermission everyone was asked to leave the seating area.

While attendees stood with their drinks near the lobby bar, the cast started mingling. I turned around to find the Beggar Woman (Kiara Jay, who also played Pirelli) shaking her tin change cup in my face. …

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