Photos: Dan Lane as Sweeney Todd, Alison Pattinson as Mrs Lovett and Christopher Lynagh as Dr. Lupin.
Sweeney Todd – A Melodrama with Music
Book, Music & Lyrics by Brian J. Burton
Directed by Sandra Harman
Musical Direction by David Bentley
Presented by New Farm Nash Theatre Inc
Merthyr Road Uniting Church
Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, derives its story from a historical legend dating back to fourteenth century France when a certain barber on the Ile da Citê was reputed to have cut throats and disposed of his victims in a highly unconventional manner. During the first three or four decades of the 19th century there was a revival of interest in things horrific and the story reappeared with its setting changed to late eighteenth century London. It was published as a serial in a series of sixpenny novels called “The String of Pearls”. It was this nineteenth century ‘horror comic’ that George Dibdin Pitt used as the basis of his play, and was turned into ‘A Melodrama with Music’ by Brian Burton. This is the version, and not the more modern musical that came out in 2007, that Nash Theatre put to stage last night.
And when you see this version of the infamous barber, you will see why it was called The String of Pearls over a century and a bit ago.
Many actors, from famous to amateur, have played the part of Sweeney Todd, and Dan Lane can now add his name to that list.
His was an entertaining and enrapturing Todd, with a malicious laugh, English accent and sideburns to boot. (Ones he especially grew in for the part too, I might add). His portrayal of the evil, and slightly mad, Todd was excellent and his singing voice matched the twisted character as well. Lane was an imposing figure on stage and leads the audience on a merry dance right down to his ultimate fall into insanity and demise.
Todd’s partner in crime is the infamous pie maker, Mrs Lovett, played ably by Alison Pattinson. Their duet together was amusing as Mrs Lovett has second thoughts about her pie ingredients and wants to stop, while Todd makes sure that she keeps doing what she is doing or else!
Dr Lupin was also a wonderful character – a sort of a priest who preached virtue on one hand while drinking rum with the other. He is interested in Mrs Lovett, she being a ‘wealthy widow’, but really he is interested in anyone who can offer him a bottle of spirits. Even poor young Miss Joanna Oakley, whose mother tries to pawn her off on Dr Lupin, as her fiancé Mark Lugestre has become one of Todd’s victims. He does an excellent song where he gets drunker and drunker, cavorting about the stage.
The stage at Merthyr Road Uniting Church hall is not large and I was wondering how this play would be accommodated in the space. Quite well, as it turned out, with a stage apron being erected to expand one half of the stage.
The bakery ovens were on the floor at stage left which worked well with the premise that these were in a basement and the actors descending the stairs to the floor to access them. Stage right was the murderous barber’s chair, which of course, tips backwards to deposit its victims down a chute to the bakery downstairs. Centre stage was a three piece screen with ivy to separate stage left from the parlour of the Oakley’s house or Mrs Lovett’s (whichever the scene called for). It is also used in a garden scene for one of the actors (Colonel Jeffrey) to hide behind. Various props came on and off in the blackouts to aid the various scenes, but these were kept to a minimum.
The only musical accompaniment was a piano played by Stuart Crisp. And this was all that was required. The musical talents of those that sang on stage were not drowned out by an orchestra or recorded music, making it possible to enjoy the words to the songs, as these are a vital part of the whole.
I thoroughly enjoyed this play. It is entertaining, funny and being community theatre, offers a wide range of people the chance to be involved in theatre which they might not otherwise get. As an example, the young lady who played Tilly Ragg (Chiara Axnick), was so excited about being part of the play when she auditioned, that the part was created for her. Her duet and tap dance with her brother, Tobias Ragg (Jackson Howe) was absolutely delightful.