Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Tooting Arts Club stage Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 musical in a pie and mash shop in Tooting.

In what might be the boldest move on London’s fringe theatre scene this year, Tooting Arts Club perform Stephen Sondheim’s murderous musical in one of the capital’s oldest (and tiniest) pie-and-mash shops.

The move may also be one of the most brilliant. Harrington’s has been a popular, if simple, Tooting tuck house since 1908. Now run by the friendly Beverley Mason (great-granddaughter of the original Harrington) you can buy a hearty meal of pie, mash, liquor or eels for less than the cost of a tube journey. Much like Sondheim’s musical, it is an evocative alcove of London’s past.

Director Bill Buckhurst embraces the tiny space with relish; this ‘Sweeney Todd’ is performed on tables, counters, the stairs and sometimes on top of the audience themselves. The production clicks into place the moment Siobhan McCarthy comes on as Mrs Lovett, the dreary pastry mistress who shacks up with the mysterious Sweeney Todd. Harrington’s pie shop becomes her pie shop, the centre of the gruesome operation where barber Sweeney slits the throats of strangers in her upstairs room and she bakes them into her amazing-tasting delicacies in the basement.

McCarthy is superb, her suggestive eyebrows a hoot, her voice broad and strong. At times she and the rest of the small but uniformly excellent cast almost shout Sondheim’s songs and when this happens, it’s hard not to be astounded. The force and will of those numbers, sung in the small space, hits you like a musical brick.
 
Jeremy Secomb plays a horribly shifty Sweeney Todd whose painful memories goad his hunger for revenge. His double act with McCarthy is an excellent mix: a rich gravy to her steak filling.

Amy Mae Smith’s ingenious lighting design uses a mixture of candlelight and suggestive colours and it transforms the small space from shop to dark London street to the murder-central barbers. Tooting Arts Club has pulled off a rare, thrilling and exceptionally entertaining ‘Sweeney’. But, whatever you do, don’t forget to try a pie – they’re to die for.

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