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Cameron Mackintosh creates a pop up pie and mash shop to home Tooting Arts Club's excellent production of Sondheim's musical.
If the West End won’t come to Tooting, Tooting must come to the West End.
Tooting Arts Club’s plucky site-specific production of Stephen Sondheim’s gory Victoriana masterpiece caused a big splash in SW17 when it debuted at the venerable Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop last year. But how to transfer it when the staging is everything?
Bung it on a West End stage and you lose Jeremy Secomb’s powerful, death-mask-faced Todd thrusting audience members aside as he throws his victims down on to tabletops to murder them; you’d lose clever little tricks like the cast using cutlery as percussion to accompany the bare-bones music; and you’d lose the chills-down-the-spine power of performers singing a few inches from your head.
TAC’s solution is simple and entirely effective: they’ve built an exact replica of Harrington’s on Shaftesbury Avenue, and made no attempt to fix a show that ain’t broke. The only concessions to Shaftesbury Avenue are an extra row of seats at the back that bolster the venue’s capacity, a modestly swish bar outside, and the fact that, here, pie and mash are only available to ticket-holding punters.
The pleasures of Bill Buckhurst’s production are cheeky and up close: an embracing of the macabre absurdities of Sondheim and co-writer Hugh Wheeler’s Dickens-gone-goth spin on Victorian London. It looks kind of tacky, but in a purely good way – an evocation of the seedy city Sondheim was painting.
Little touches that would fall flat in a bigger space sparkle here: Todd eating one of Mrs Lovett’s ‘worst pies in London’ at pained, glacial pace; rival barber Adolfo being played by a woman in a ’tache (Kiara Jay); a blaring red light in lieu of stage blood; Secomb’s bug-eyed glare, which might look silly at a distance but is genuinely terrifying when turned on you at close quarters.
When legendary Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel takes to the London Coliseum stage next week to sing Todd for ENO’s blockbuster production, it’ll surely be as good as it gets… in a 2,000-seater theatre. But within these four small walls, Tooting Arts Club rules.