Sweeney Todd moves to the 20th cen­tury

The Tribune (NZ) - - ENJOY! -

Peo­ple whose fam­i­lies lived through the 1930s or, who stud­ied the tur­bu­lent decade, will ben­e­fit from a fresh, com­pelling in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s mu­si­cal thriller, Sweeney Todd: The De­mon Bar­ber of Fleet Street.

Scott An­drew, di­rec­tor of the Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of Sweeney Todd, which runs from March 3-19 at The Au­di­to­rium, has set the mu­si­cal in a 1930s fac­tory in Lon­don.

Orig­i­nally the pro­duc­tion was set in 1846, but Scott sees strong par­al­lels with a so­ci­ety emerg­ing from a global de­pres­sion and alarmed by the rise of mil­i­tant dic­ta­tor­ships in Europe.

Scott has re­mained faith­ful to the script and mu­sic but ‘‘the set­ting is en­hanced be­cause it brings the decade closer to us,’’ he says.

‘‘Poverty, crime, class struc­ture, the con­trived scarcity of food and the ever in­creas­ing dom­i­na­tion by ma­chin­ery are themes which tran­scend both cen­turies,’’ Scott ex­plains.

Set against this work­ing back­ground is the dra­matic thriller of a flawed but hon­est man who re­turns from ex­ile to take re­venge on a cor­rupt judge who ban­ished him, then se­duced his wife and made his daugh­ter a ward of state.

Sweeney con­spires with Mrs Lovett, a pie maker, to lure Judge Turpin to his premises so he can pun­ish him. A hor­ri­fy­ing set of events fol­lows dur­ing which he puts his bar­ber’s blade to good use and Mrs Lovett gets enough fill­ing to be­come the most pop­u­lar pie maker in Lon­don.

Scott in­tends to take the au­di­ence on a psy­cho­log­i­cal jour­ney from ob­ses­sion and ret­ri­bu­tion to mur­der.

‘‘The mu­si­cal is dark and scary but it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the cir­cum­stances that dic­tate the ac­tions he takes,’’ he says.

‘‘What pushes him to the edge of san­ity and be­yond is cru­cial to our un­der­stand­ing of this tor­tured char­ac­ter.’’

To achieve this, the fac­tory, in turn, be­comes a grim place of work, a bar­ber­shop, a bake house, a pie shop, the mar­ket­place and an in­sane asy­lum.

Scott pre­dicts Sweeney Todd will be ‘‘like watch­ing a film on stage. Peo­ple who at­tend movies will be cap­ti­vated by this pro­duc­tion,’’ he prom­ises.

To sup­port such an in­tense mu­si­cal, Scott has as­sem­bled a strong and tal­ented cast of 21 who, he says, are com­mit­ted and ab­sorbed in their roles.

They in­clude Glen Nes­bit, who re­turns from Syd­ney to play the lead­ing role of Sweeney Todd, Tracey-Lynn Cody is Mrs Lovett, Chris Thomp­son and Madi­son Hor­man are the young, ro­man­tic leads, Erica Ward is the beg­gar woman, Sam Gor­don is Judge Turpin, An­drew Hodg­son is Bea­dle Bam­ford, Read Wheeler is To­bias and Michael Doody plays Pirelli.

‘‘This is a cast who are step­ping out of their com­fort zone and tak­ing risks to ac­com­plish this dark, in­sane but of­ten amus­ing pro­duc­tion,’’ he says.

For Scott, now a full­time theatre pro­fes­sional and, who last year, di­rected the ac­claimed Evita for AMT, Sweeney Todd is the ‘‘most chal­leng­ing piece I have ever put on stage.’’

The macabre Mrs Lovett, Tracey-Lynne Cody, a Lon­don piemaker, threat­ens a cus­tomer with her rolling pin. Mrs Lovett is one of the lead­ing char­ac­ters from Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre’s Sweeney Todd.

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