“ Company: Chichester Theatre Company / Sweeney Todd (The demon Barber of Fleet street) Stephen Sondheim musical at The Adelphi Theatre, London „
SWEENEY TODD-A CUT THROAT BUSINESS (NOW AT THE ADELPHI THEATRE, LONDON) A BIRTHDAY TREAT I love going to the theatre to watch a musical and so when I heard that Sweeney Todd was opening in London, in the spring of 2012, I thought this would be an ideal treat for my daughter's nineteenth birthday. And the icing on the cake was that Michael Ball was to play the male lead, starring as the infamous Mr Sweeney Todd. My daughter, who is a musical theatre student, was well up for this and so was my husband. I do admit though being a little dubious as to whether this would really be a story for me to see onstage (I had seen a televised serial drama years ago and this may have been a big contribution of my stopping eating meat). I don't like the story of Sweeney Todd, me being a little squeamish when it comes to this type of thing, but I thought as this was a musical, I would try my hardest to be brave. BOOKING TICKETS/PRICES I had an appointment in London's Chancery Lane in February and so once that was out of the way I walked with my husband to the Adelphi Theatre, on The Strand. This was before the show had opened (it had been showing in Chichester, Sussex) and I was worried that I would choose a date when Michael Ball wasn't appearing. I asked about this at the box office and was told that they hadn't been informed of any dates that Mr Ball wouldn't be appearing and usually this near to the opening they would have been informed of any days off for the next couple of months. I decided to take a chance as I knew my daughter would be happy to see the show anyway, although seeing Michael Ball would certainly be an added bonus. Prices are £67.50, £55, £37.50, £25, £20 and premium seats are also available at an extra cost. All ticket prices include a one pound restoration levy. Tickets for Sweeney Todd can be booked from the box office either by phone or in person or can also be booked on-line. Telephone:0844 811 0053 (24 hours).The box office is open Mon-Sat 10am - 8pm. Group, schools and day tickets can be bought at reduced rates. For this show children over the age of twelve years are allowed in with parental guidance. Although I saw a matinee performance the audience was decidedly adult, which I appreciated on this occasion. Access tickets are available and cost £25 each for a disabled person and one carer. PERFORMANCE TIMES Performances until 22 September Mon - Sat 7.30pm Wed & Sat 2.30pm Running Time 2 hr. 45 min (including interval) No performances 30 July - 11 August 2012 OUR CHOICE I requested tickets for the matinee performance on Saturday 21st April. Choosing a matinee meant that myself and my husband could take our daughter out for a meal after the show and even after that she wouldn't have to go back, alone, to her university accommodation too late at night. I was shown a plan which indicated seats still available. I had already printed out a seat plan with areas of recommended seats showing. Even at this early stage before the show had opened my first choice of seats were already taken. I asked for the best seats that were still available and booked those suggested. The seats we took were in the stall which is where I prefer to be seated for most shows and these were row M and three fairly central seats near to a central aisle. Tickets were priced at £67.50 (plus a theatre restoration levy) for each ticket. As I got these from the theatre there wasn't a booking fees or postage to pay, although admittedly still an expensive treat. THE STORY/ MUSICAL INTERPRETATION This is an old story set in nineteenth century London. It is supposedly fictitious although some feel it is based upon truth but that I wouldn't know, and would prefer to believe it is entirely made up. Benjamin Barker a young barber was happily married to Lucy and they had a young daughter called Johanna. Unfortunately Lucy innocently catches the eye of a judge and he is determined to have his wicked way with her. Benjamin is transported by the judge on a false charge. With her husband's protection gone Lucy becomes a victim of the judge's lust and he rapes her. Benjamin, in exile, has vowed vengeance on the judge for his cruel transportation and therefore separation from his family. After fifteen years he manages to escape and reach London. He now calls himself Sweeney Todd. Todd is welcomed by Mrs Lovett who owns the run down struggling pie shop in Fleet Street. She suggests he sets up a barber shop business above her pie shop. Soon after this their becomes a vast improvement in the quality of Mrs Lovett's pies with them now being amply filled with meat and no longer, as in the lyrics of the song, "the worst pies in London." Todd believes his wife has died. This story has been read (originally it was in print) and seen on film, television, theatre and the musical stage many times and it remains a popular and classic story. As I mentioned, I was a little worried about the horror aspects but I needn't have been. When Sweeney Todd stood on the stage brandishing his sharpened cut throat razor for the first threatening time, all was quiet in the theatre as we waited for the first fatal cut. The suspense could be felt. Michael Ball teased with the razor and the moment became amusing, as was intended. I shall say no more, although I would think everyone reading this would have a good idea of the plot. Most classical musicals are old, often told stories based on books or films; I feel with most musicals one would go along knowing the storyline and, really I feel, with a musical it is better to understand the plot and then enjoy the acting and musical interpretation. The score by Stephen Sondheim is, as always, clever and translates the story excellently for the musical stage. At the start the scene is set with the ensemble singing "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." Imelda Staunton's rendition (as Mrs Lovett) of "The Worst Pies in London" is truly terrific. I thought Lucy May Barker (Johanna) made a good attempt at singing the quite difficult "Green Finch and Linnet Bird." I enjoyed hearing "City on Fire/Searching" by the ensemble, Johanna, Anthony, Todd, Mrs Lovett & Beggar Woman. James McConville (Tobias) and Imelda Staunton's touching duet of "Not While I'm Around" made me feel quite sad. CAST Directed by Jonathan Kent, I thought this was a good cast and recognised some of the actors from other shows and films. Everyone played their part to a good standard or very good, although for me, the most memorable parts of this show was the wonderful voice and presence of Michael Ball teemed with the wonderful acting of Imelda Staunton. She is a diminutive lady with a huge talent. Imelda Staunton really was outstanding as Mrs Lovett; her timing is perfect. The show starts with a dark stage and the setting of Fleet Street in old London town as the ensemble sing "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and the mood is set from the start. We see Sweeney Todd returning to his homeland after his unjust exile. Michael Ball looks completely different, very sombre and intimidating. I had heard that some members of the audience left their seats in disgust during one of the first shows believing that the lead role of Sweeny Todd was being played by an understudy when they had paid to see Mr Ball. I was prepared for this but still had to peer hard to see if it was indeed him. No worries though, as he sang in his usual smooth, soaring voice there could be no mistaking the inimitable Michael Ball. THOUGHTS ON OUR SEATS We arrived at the theatre with not very much time to spare and so after a quick visit to the toilet we took our seats. We decided to enjoy a drink in the interval. We found our seats and as the show began I couldn't believe our luck that, although it seemed to be just about a full house, there were in fact two seats vacant in front of us and fortunately they remained empty for the shows duration. This meant that we had a lovely clear view of the stage. In my opinion the Adelphi hasn't much in the way of a rake and so if large people had been directly I front of us this would have meant the view wouldn't have been so good. However I would say that in my opinion these were good seats as far as the choices go (although I think it's very expensive) as the stage is quite high and some of the scenes could be missed if sitting too near to it. I think a stiff neck would be a likely outcome. FACILITIES The theatre has a kiosk which sells various souvenirs of the show such as T shirts, CDs, mugs, key rings etc. We bought a CD fro our daughter to take back to university but it would have been cheaper to buy from Amazon, I think. Bars are on all levels. Drinks as always seems to be the case, in London theatres especially, drinks at the bars were expensive. We did all have a drink but I can't remember how much the bill came to but it would have been more than in a pub. We chose to have our drinks served in plastic tumblers so that we would be able to take them into the auditorium. There wouldn't have been enough time to drink them in the bar. TOILETS Disabled facilities are available. There never seems to be enough time especially for us females to use the lavatory and purchase a drink. We order our drinks for the interval before the show begins and then find they are waiting on the bar but even so, there is still not long enough to enjoy a drink as there is the rush for the toilets. Unless you are fortunate enough to be sitting near to an aisle and close to the toilets, then a long queue is inevitable. There just aren't enough toilet cubicles in these old theatres for the amount of people needing them. I believe that considering the cost of a visit to the theatre one should not have to hurry about and be expected to queue. More toilets are needed and perhaps a longer interval. DISABLED ACCESS Access tickets are available for disabled guests and one carer. The theatre has wheelchair access and there is a ramp to the front entrance. There is an adapted toilet at ground floor level Access dogs are allowed inside the auditorium. LOCATION The Adelphi theatre is situated at: 409-412, The Strand, London WC2R 0NS GETTING THERE As the the theatre is pretty much central London hen getting there is easy from London and its suburbs. Also from areas further afield with good overground rail links into London. Local underground stations are: Covent Garden (Piccadilly line) and Charing Cross/Embankment (District, Circle, Northern and Bakerloo lines). We travelled to Covent Garden which doesn't have escalators but instead lifts which means queuing at busy times. The walk took a little over ten minutes from Covent Garden Station. The nearest car parks are in Chinatown and near to Trafalgar Square. OVERALL I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Sweeney Todd and so did my husband and daughter. My daughter, being slightly obsessed with musicals really is familiar with content and all songs and their lyrics. I wasn't as familiar and found the show better than expected. I was thrilled to have seen, and heard, both Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball and will remember this day with fond memories. I thought the cast was good and so was the ensemble. Costumes were authentic and so was the scenery which created an excellent believable atmosphere. However, just one negative being that I feel this theatre needs more of a rake to be able to get the most from a show such as this. As said, our seats were quite good (and made better by the fact that there were two empty seats in front of us) but I always do my research and choose as well as I can but, if I was new to theatre or didn't have the means, or knowledge to find the best seats for the price I decided to pay, then I could have been disappointed. For me, and my two companions the day was a success and the price paid worthwhile for the great, and memorable, experience we enjoyed.