24 September 2014

Magnificent and bloody Sweeney Todd at the Twickenham Theatre

Twickenham Theatre was a new venture and I was keen to support them. It helped that they put on Sweeney Todd, another famous musical that I had not seen before.

The theatre is conveniently placed next to Twickenham Station which my train home from Reading passes through. It also has a large bar though I had to make do with a Guinness as there were no bitters on.

I joined the semi-orderly queue and waited to be allowed upstairs. The theatre has been created in a former office and while the use of it had changed the old purpose was still very evident. The theatre itself had a low ceiling and had been created simply by creating a raised stage against one wall with seating on the other three sides. A proper thrust stage.

Despite not being that near to the front of the queue I managed to claim a seat in the front row on one of the corners of the stage. The seating was close to the stage and close together which made it quite cosy. There was just enough space for my work bag too.

While waiting for the show to start one of the helpers warned me that being on the end of the row that performers would be squeezing past me sometimes to get on/off the stage and so I had to make sure that I kept all my stuff out of the way. That proved to be sound advice.

The music came from behind a black screen on the other side of the stage so it was hard to tell what produced it all but it was mostly keyboards.

The show started with a chorus explaining that we were about to hear the story of Sweeney Todd, and then we did so. Amongst the jumble of London life that we met was a prostitute with a remarkable turn of phrase, I had never heard "pushing the parsley" used as a euphemism before.

The tale of Sweeney Todd is well known so I shall not repeat it. What is less well known is how it was told in this case.

Several things made the show stand out. First among these were the performances of the two stars, David Bedella as Sweeney the barber and Sarah Ingram as Mrs Lovett the pie-maker who became Sweeney's landlady then partner.

They sang sweetly but it was the acting that won me over the most. It was little things like the way that Mrs Lovett casually wiped blood of her face when she had to see a visitor.

The production had a lot of audience interaction. I had a young "boy" offering to sell me hair restorer (no idea why), Sweeney called be a fop and following a heavy drinking session one of the men leant on me for a while. Still, I did much better than the man a few seats to my right who got a good splattering of blood from one of the many throat cuttings.

It was a lot funnier than I expected and all the cast did a fine job in teasing every ounce of entertainment out of the Sondheim script.

The proximity of the stage combined with the interactions from the cast made this a very immersive and engaging play. And not knowing all of the details of the story I was completely hooked.

I am lucky to see a lot of theatre and quite a bit of that is very very good but this was the first time for a long while that I leaped to my feet in rapturous adulation at the end. It is easy to see why it has been extended, sold out and has attracted people back for second helpings. It was just perfect.

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