Before starting this review, I have to state that in my opinion, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” is one of the finest, if not the finest, musical of the past 50 years. So to write a musical about the two main protagonists of that show, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, is akin to writing a musical about two warring gangs in 50s New York City; it’s either brave or foolhardy – and in this case it’s the latter.
The writer’s Dave Spencer (book and lyrics) and Jo Turner (music) have tried to tell the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street from a different perspective to Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (the book writer) by giving Lovett a sister. This could have been the tale of a scheming pie-maker whose love for her sister is stronger than her love for Todd. But the writers have missed the mark by a long, long way and the result is a hotchpotch of a musical mess.
I’m always wary of any musical that utilises a lot of exposition to tell the story rather than through the dialogue and the songs and in the case of this production, there is an actual character called “Narrator”. But he’s not the only character who narrates the story, so do other cast members – all very confusing.
The music itself is a mixture of ill-matching styles. Sondheim’s maxim of “content dictates form” is thrown right out of the window here as “form dictates content” and there are songs in the style of sea shanties, a Disney-ish song that sounded like something from “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” and even a tango with accompanying dancing! The lyrics often don’t make sense or scan and lines rhyming “Cornelia” and “feel ya” illustrate how very ordinary and a little lazy, the writing is. Any story about a barber killing his customers who are then baked into pies, must in essence be dark and “grand guignol” in style but unfortunately “Lovett + Todd” gets nowhere near it.
The production is also marred by some poor singing (a lot of sharps and flats) and ordinary acting. Daniel Collard plays Todd as a love-sick public schoolboy and doesn’t have the gravitas that the character cries out for. Louise Torres-Ryan tries hard to be cruel and un-caring as the monstrous Lovett but she just doesn’t pull it off and her “cockerny” accent isn’t consistent. The rest of the cast of six, some of whom play instruments, try hard but the material they’ve been given, does them no favours.
I have great admiration for Adam Spreadbury-Maher the Artistic Director at the King’s Head and the high standard of the productions that London’s oldest pub theatre has put on in the past so I’m really surprised that “Lovett + Todd” doesn’t nearly match those standards.
About half-way through I realised what the show reminded me of. “The Showstoppers” do improvisational musicals where the audience shout out a subject and then the company produce an off-the-cuff instantaneous musical – some of which come off and some of which don’t (mainly they do). In the case of “Lovett + Todd”, it’s as if someone shouted out “Sweeney Todd” and the company realised it couldn’t be done and just went through the motions.
Review by Alan Fitter
LOVETT + TODD
A PIE MAKER AND A CANNIBAL PLAN
Another Soup will bring an immersive new musical version of the original Sweeney Todd story to the King’s Head Theatre in July and August. Rebranded Lovett + Todd, and focusing more on the devious pie maker behind the cannibal plan, the company are inviting audiences to witness a drastic retelling of this haunting. Having won various awards at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, Another Soup is proud to be bringing this critically acclaimed production, under a new and rejuvenated guise, to London audiences.
Lovett + Todd will be performed by a group of six actor/musicians. Celebrating the immersive potential of the new thrust set-up of the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, Another Soup will present a truly interactive and involving setting for this classic and ghoulish tale. Revelling in the ridiculous and bloody motives behind the infamous pie maker, this award-winning theatre company and director, Dave Spencer, will explore the true devil in the detail.
Lovett + Todd – King’s Head Theatre Teaser Trailer
Lovett + Todd
The King’s Head, 115 Upper Street, Islington, N1 1QN
14th July – 1 August (Tues-Sat, 9pm – Sun matinees, 4pm – Sat 1 August 4pm & 9pm)
Saturday 18th July 2015