Sweeney Todd – Harrington’s pie-and-mash shop, Tooting

Sweeney Todd at Harringtons credit Bronwen Sharp (5)

Jeremy Secomb and Siobhan McCarthy in Sweeney Todd at Harrington’s pie and mash shop, Tooting. Picture: Bronwen Sharp

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues at Harrington’s pie-and-mash shop in Tooting, London, until 29 November.

What a remarkable evening – Stephen’s Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd in a pie shop in Tooting. Something to tell the grandchildren, a one-off never to be forgotten.

Totally brilliant too. Not only a brilliant piece of PR by the Tooting Arts Club – interest has been enormous and seats for the month-long run are like gold-dust – but a brilliantly conceived use of a tiny space by inspired director Bill Buckhurst with the audience, all 32 of them, actually ON stage and in some cases perilously so.

I had Jeremy Secomb, superb in the title role, mad-eyed and chillingly scary within touching distance, an Anthony (the excellent Nadim Naaman) jumping all over a table where we’d just been sampling Harrington’s signature dish (definitely not “the worst pies in London”) and a dead Pirelli, unusually played by a woman (Kiara Jay), slumped in my lap.

If we thought last month’s Twickenham Sweeney was up close and personal, this one was even more in your face. There may have been less blood and more left to the imagination, but the horror of this grisly tale of revenge and unrequited love has never been more intense.

Tremendous praise for the cast of just eight. Siobhan McCarthy, last seen in Sondheim as the lady who lunches in Company at Southwark, a fine, devious Mrs Lovett, and Ian Mowat, who stole the show in the Union Theatre‘s recent revival of Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, again a star turn as the unctuous and sinister Beadle Bamford.

Kiara Jay may not be the first lady to play the rival barber Pirelli – Donna Lynne Champlin took the role in John Doyle’s 2007 Broadway revival – but she is almost certainly unique in combining that part with that of the Beggar Woman, and right well did she do both, twirlingly-mustached for one, raddled, dirty and in rags for the other.

Recent ArtsEd graduate Grace Chapman is a sweet-voiced Johanna making the most of ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’, Naaman a wonderfully enthusiastic and tuneful suitor, Duncan Smith a heavyweight Judge Turpin tormented by his personal demons, and young Joseph Taylor lustily reprising Tobias, a part he first played in his training days in Liverpool.

And what songs they had to sing! Some of Sondheim’s greatest work, not least ‘By the Sea’, ‘My Friends’, ‘Pretty Women’ and the wickedly clever Todd-Lovett duet ’A Little Priest’.

MD Benjamin Cox puts in a marathon stint on piano with only a clarinet and violin for support, but it is absolutely perfect for such a small auditorium in which every nook and cranny is put to optimum use.

Nothing would have been possible without a tremendous community spirit. Harrington’s, a Tooting institution, still serves the same gor-blimey fare it has been doing since 1908, so the oldest business in SW17 is now London’s newest theatre venue.

They are closing an hour early at 5pm through November to allow the company time to prepare for each evening’s performance while the barber’s shop (ho-ho-ho) across the road has given the Arts Club daily access to use its loo (Harrington’s doesn’t possess one), serve drinks and act as a theatrical conduit into Act II with the audiences being led back to their seats by the cast.

Help came at every turn for what is only TAC’s fifth production since it was born three years ago and Sondheim himself gave the green light for this extraordinary experiment which comes off at every level.

And while seating and decor won’t win any design awards, Sondheim never meant this to be a comfortable or comforting experience, did he?

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd? Wouldn’t have missed it for the world…

Jeremy Chapman

www.tootingartsclub.co.uk

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