Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd…
In collaboration with On The Rocks, the Just So Society returns to The Byre for a three-night run of murder, shaving and human pastries, with Sondheim’s iconic musical thriller, Sweeney Todd.
Satirising the gross consumerism of Victorian London’s capitalist society, Sweeney Todd follows Benjamin Barker, a wronged barber who returns from exile to discover he has lost his wife and daughter to a corrupt justice system. He exacts revenge through the brutal slaughter of his customers, whose bodies soon find their way into the meat pies of the cunning and crazed businesswoman Mrs Lovett. This show indulges unapologetically in the macabre, conveying emotional rawness with more than a touch of dark comedy. It is an unsettling and entertaining critique of human nature at its most repellent.
Based on the script adaptation by Christopher Bond, Sweeney Todd has long been recognised by theatre critics as ‘Sondheim’s dark masterpiece’. The undeniable genius of composer Stephen Sondheim, in writing the music and lyrics of Sweeney Todd, has underpinned the show’s worldwide success since its Broadway premiere in 1979. Sondheim’s contribution to musical theatre extends over half a century, and his major works include West Side Story, Follies, Passion and Into the Woods. However, Sweeney Todd is arguably Sondheim’s greatest work. Receiving Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards and Laurence Olivier Awards both for its original and revival shows, the wit and brilliance of Sondheim’s lyrics, combined with his extraordinary musical score, make Sweeney Todd an unmissable theatrical experience.
The Just So Society has risen to the challenge of making this renowned musical their own. Sticking to a traditional aesthetic, director Kyra Ho’s interpretation grounds the show in a sense of realism that transcends the absurdity of the melodrama. Encouraging the cast to unpick the meaning behind the lyrics and see their characters as real, three-dimensional people rather than histrionic caricatures, Sondheim’s satire will prove especially effective in this production, as audiences cannot help but resonate with the realistically flawed characters onstage. Sweeney Todd is a tale of obsession and revenge, intended to reveal the selfish, darker side of humanity, and this production promises to be as fearlessly grotesque, ruthless, and haunting as is necessary to bring the audiences to the edge of their seats.
Characterisation is fundamental for Sondheim; it’s present in his melodies and his lyrics, but also relies on the show’s acting and directorial choices. In Sweeney Todd, members of the chorus act as narrators, and Kyra envisions them as projections that have emerged from out of Sweeney’s mind. Consequently, the show plays with movement to reflect Sweeney’s psychic state, oscillating between mechanical and seductive motions depending on his mood. The attentiveness of Kyra and assistant director Kerry Gnandt to every subtle structural and technical element of this musical increases the cohesion and quality of the production as a whole. The layers of meaning within this piece enrich it as an aesthetic and intellectual artwork of which Sondheim would have been proud.
Watching the cast in rehearsal, it was clear to see the passion and commitment of everyone involved. Even without costume, make-up or a full ensemble, the cast of Sweeney Todd commanded the room. Diving straight into character, they created an immediately chilling tone and sustained a captivating presence. The vocals and acting in this production are formidable. Drawn from a variety of musical backgrounds, cast members range from experienced participants of musical theatre, acapella and opera, to choir members for whom Sweeney Todd is their first production. The Just So Society has selected the best of St Andrews’ musical talent, bringing together and celebrating a range of individual voices and styles to create an exciting and unique sound for the show.
This fusion of the different musical realms of St Andrews perfectly parallels the diversity of the show’s C19th city setting, and the combination of classical training and musical theatre in particular couldn’t be more appropriate to Sweeney Todd: Sondheim himself employs a similar hybrid style in his writing. Describing the piece as a ‘black operetta’, his lyrics remain consciously conversational, enabling actors to tell their stories authentically in a way that audiences can easily follow.
For a production as immense as this, Sweeney Todd has needed and comprised of a spectacular team effort. Kyra and Kerry praised the cast’s and crew’s absolute dedication, with everyone working on their own time, actors arriving early to rehearsals and staying late for further character work, and all investing a hundred percent into this project from sheer passion. It is this level of commitment that is always the marker for a truly brilliant show, when the team is motivated purely by enthusiasm and the shared desire to make the production the best it can be. What struck me about this particular ensemble was the collaborative, experimental nature of their rehearsals. Dialogue was effortless and open as the team experimented with different ideas and discussed possible improvements. There was a feeling of mutual respect between those involved, and the creative and positive atmosphere of the room propelled the process forwards with ease. Kyra and Kerry have treated the cast like professionals, ensuring the chorus is as talented and powerful as the leads, and the cast look to deliver highly impressive performances.
On her experience directing Sweeney Todd, Kyra says, ‘It’s the most work I’ve ever put into anything – the show has definitely taken over my life! It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences, seeing something you’ve been thinking about for half a year, your vision come out and then [the cast] make it better. I love them. The talent we have in this town musically deserves a show like this.’
Sweeney Todd is, without a doubt, one of the most emotionally, physically and vocally demanding shows to stage, but the Just So Society are more than prepared to provide an unforgettable performance. Earlier this week they performed a flash mob in various places in town to promote their show.
Sweeney Todd is showing at The Byre theatre from the 8th – 10th April 2018.
Director: Kyra Ho
Assistant Director: Kerry Gnandt
Producer: Jackie Ashkin
Assistant Producer: Elisha Herring
Musical Director: Josh Wood
Assistant Musical Director: Georgia Curwen
Rehearsal Pianist: Sam Hatchell
Head Technician: Grace Cowie
Stage Manager/Publicity: Amy Addinall
Costumes: Freya Upton
Hair and Makeup: Jasmine Rodriguez and Stephanie Herron
Set Design: Olivia Houseman
Production Assistant: Luke Monks
Publicity (Film): Catherine Thines
Sweeney Todd: Duncan Bristow
Mrs Lovett: Alice Gold
Anthony Hope: Thomas Halvorsen
Johanna Barker: Seonaid Eadie
Judge Turpin: Alex Schellekens
Tobias Ragg: Coggin Galbreath
Beadle Bamford: James Green
The Beggar Woman: Millie Postle
Adolfo Pirelli: Andrew Mundy
Sopranos: Cathy McCaimont, Miranda Wilson, Sarah Koh
Altos: Helen MacKenzie, Sarah Johnston, Mary Carson Wells
Tenors: George Kakas, Maddy Abbs, Milo Bernfield-Millman
Basses: Connor Norris, Wei Chee Lee, Bryn Jackson-Farrer