HOT off the heels of their successful run of the Broadway hit musical Annie, the Durban theatre company KickstArt present Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller, Sweeney Todd.
The dark thriller tells the peculiar urban legend of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, famous for killing his clients, and his neighbour and partner-in-crime, Mrs Lovett, who would turn them into pies.
Director Steven Stead told Tonight why the company chose this production and explained that, although dark, Sweeney Todd is balanced with humour and still relevant for today.
“When we say ‘dark’, it’s not a horror. When Tim Burton made a film based on this musical, he turned it into a horror, but what it is, is a very clever pastiche of Victorian melodrama and more current, edgy social commentary. So those two elements come together. You get the camp and the style of Victorian melodrama coming in with Sondheim’s genius, marrying the story about social inequality and injustice, which is very contemporary. So it’s got a bite, but it also has massive humour,” he explained.
Stead described the leading characters, Mrs Lovett (played by Charon Williams-Ros) and Sweeney Todd (played by Jason Ralph) as being two sides of a coin.
“Sweeney kills because he is driven by revenge. I don’t want to give away too much, but he was unfairly imprisoned to get him out of the way so that a rich judge could get at his wife. And he returns from exile in Australia, his wife now dead, and he wants revenge on that judge and all those higher ranking political figures who conspired to put him in prison.
“He doesn’t know how to, he is too low on the chain, but by a series of accidents he stumbles on the fact that he could set up a barber shop again and lure them there and get rid of them. And that’s his trajectory, and you kind of understand it, it’s human.
“Mrs Lovett is totally in love with him and she’s the comedy. So you get this steamy, intense drive from Sweeney, which is the drama. And then Mrs Lovett is driven by money and sex, basically… so if she has to pop a few people into pies to make an extra bit of dosh, if she can buy a new frock and get some new wallpaper, she doesn’t see the problem with that. She’s just a really funny character,” he said.
“Without the two sides to the coin, the show doesn’t have the dynamic and vitality. And I really believe that with Charon and Jason we’re going to get those two sides of the coin,” he added.
On the design front, Stead said the show is set in Victorian London.
“So we are talking Industrial Revolution. It’s about the class battle, about the rich at the top having everything and people underneath… with nothing. And life is very hard for them. So that’s the kind of background you’re trying to portray. There’s a line that Sweeney repeats: ‘There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit and it’s filled with people who are filled with sh*t and the vermin of the world inhabit it and it goes by the name of London,’ and that’s what we’re trying to create.”
Commenting on the costumes (Neil Stuart Harris), Stead said the fabrics are a dark pallet of blacks with deep maroons, purples and deep olive greens.
“Neil knows how to make a beautiful gown and then break it down to look like it’s been worn for 30 years, and that’s what he’s done for Mrs Lovett. We decided that the judge and Joanna, who’re the upper class, will look impeccable in white and navy blue, there’s no muck on their gowns, they are like dolls in a case. But all the people in the street have mud up to their ankles.”
Although set in London, Stead says the musical is very relevant today: “It really is very relevant. In our country the gap between rich and poor is widening. People are struggling when you look on the ground. And also for us middle class it’s getting more and more difficult, and yet you see a handful of people prospering and there’s a bitterness that starts creeping in and it’s the engine that drives this show, that resentment of class.”
The production also features Lyle Buxton as the young sailor Anthony and Joburg soprano Sanli Jooste as his beloved, Johanna. Bryan Hiles plays the simpleton Tobias, Durban’s Richard Salmon is the evil Judge Turpin, Danilo Antonelli makes a flamboyant Pirelli, Liesl Coppin plays the enigmatic Beggar Woman and Darren King is the odious Beadle. Musical direction is by Shelley McLean and Justin Southey.
• R130 to R200 at Computicket. Block bookings and more: Ailsa Windsor 083 250 2690 or editor. [email protected]