Sweeney Todd moves to the 20th century
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.