Review: Sweeney Todd, Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop

“Did you come here for a pie sir?

Tucked away in an unassuming side street in Tooting, Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop has incredibly been serving the locals for 106 years – a venerable local institution and now the location for a strikingly unique interpretation of Sondheim’s masterly Sweeney Todd. With room for just 32 inside, Bill Buckhurst’s production for Tooting Arts Club is shockingly intense, literally so given the constricted space and the predilection of the performers to jump up on the tables, get right in our faces or even rub a dab of some hair tonic in the case of one noted critic- this sure ain’t for the fainthearted.

As the company of eight command us to attend the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street (well, Selkirk Road actually!), there’s no escaping the compact world that they create but it is hard to imagine that you’d want to. It’s like a concentrated shot of musical theatre perfection, the operatic scale of the show distilled into an almost personal experience and led by the magisterial, menacing presence of Jeremy Secomb’s Sweeney whose eyes bore unblinkingly into the very soul, the intelligence of this immersive production shines throughout.

Not only allowing Secomb to verbally and vocally accost us up close and personal, the intimacy of the venue also works perfectly in suggesting Todd’s delusions of grandeur. One perfectly realised moment sees him leap on to a table, dramatically uplit by Amy Mae Smith’s highly theatrical lighting for a grandstanding finale to a song, only for the mood to be brilliantly punctured by an unconvinced Mrs Lovett who is just the other side of the counter, sweeping up offcuts with a sceptical raised eyebrow. Siobhán McCarthy is just marvellous in the role, wryly comic and passionately forthright, she sounds like a (twisted) dream and looks stunning.

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Review: Lear, Union Theatre

“She’s there, and she is yours”

 
What if King Lear were a woman? One of the most fascinating aspects of Phil WIllmott’s version of Lear for the Union Theatre is the collection of responses, collated here in the programme, he received when posting this question on Facebook. It lays bare much about our theatrical culture and it speaks volumes that it has taken a fringe venue to make the move of making Lear a queen. Here Ursula Mohan steps into this most iconic of Shakespearean roles, in what proves to be a fascinating piece of theatre. 

An ambivalence of tone in the opening section suggests any number of interpretations might be at play in this modern day adaptation – manila folders suggest the division of a business empire rather than a kingdom, the fool’s green scrubs and readiness with a bottle of pills hints at institutionalisation, only the ever-present handbag feels like a determined (if cheeky) nod to regality. And this ambiguity gains real strength in the madness on the heath with its people sleeping rough under cardboard, shopping trollies full of junk being pushed around – the production feels powerful in this non-specific but definitely contemporary milieu. Continue reading “Review: Lear, Union Theatre”

Review: Lost Boy, Finborough Theatre

“Kissing is better than acorns”

It seems like Peter Pan had the right idea. For in new musical Lost Boy, those that left Neverland and started to grow up end up variously as gay trapeze artists, opium addicts, Parisian showgirls, miserable bankers, wannabe Jungians and prostitutes. The concept of growing up is at the heart of Phil Willmott’s new show which largely takes place in the dreamworld of Captain George Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired JM Barrie to write one of the most iconic pieces of children’s fiction but whose shadow is hard to escape. 

A few years on from the writing of Peter Pan, Llewelyn Davies finds himself preparing for battle on the eve of the First World War, emotionally unprepared for military leadership yet societally conditioned with a gung-ho war mentality. And as he closes his eyes for a moment, he dreams of being Peter Pan, all grown up in London with Wendy, Tinker Bell, Tootles and the rest but now they’re no longer in Neverland, the dilemmas they face are those of humdrum normality, that is until war is declared.  Continue reading “Review: Lost Boy, Finborough Theatre”