Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd on (Tooting) Broadway

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A few days ago I was lucky enough to go and see a wonderful production of Sweeney Todd – the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in the rather unique setting of a real pie and mash shop in Tooting.

The shop was established in 1908 at Number 3 Selkirk Road, near Tooting Broadway tube and is still run by one of the original family – Beverley Mason is a great grand-daughter of the founders. Harringtons is a rare survival and is said to be the oldest business in SW17.

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And it was inspired of the Tooting Arts Group to negotiate using this shop to house their production of Sweeney Todd. And as a bonus we had the option to we start with pie and mash in the shop. How could one resist that!

Here are our pie and mash suppers with the liquor. I am assured no cast members were harmed in the making of these pies.

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I know this does not look very appetising but it tasted fine. The green stuff was described as “parsley sauce”. I think historically it would have been what the water the eels were cooked in. I guess they probably sell a lot more meat pies than eels these days, so parsley is used to make the liquid green.

The shop is not that big. The audience only numbered around 30, so we were all close the action. And the production made very good use of the space, employing not just the counter and staircase but also the tables. Luckily the tables are fixed and solid enough for cast members to stand up on them. We were warned though to keep our fingers and drinks off the tables just in case.

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After our pie and mash, we had to get our tickets across the road at a barbers shop (!).

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Here a last customer was having his haircut (not a shave, I noted) as we got a wristband (to show we had paid).

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We were invited into a rear room where there was a small bar and a toilet. Harrington’s did not run to such conveniences, or at least did not whilst the show was on.

As well as beer and wine, gin was on offer, but most people drank it with tonic or as a Gin sling rather than have a tot on its own like Tobias would have. So back over the road for the show.

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As for the show, it was great. I have seen maybe five productions of Sweeney Todd over the years and this was one of the best.

I love this show – I think it is the best Sondheim creation. It has a very satisfying plot with two giant lead characters in Todd and Mrs Lovett, and two great set pieces of musical theatre. And there is great symmetry with the beggar woman warning Todd about Mrs Lovett and Tobias warning Mrs Lovett about Todd. I even found Joanna tolerable – she often comes over as unbearable sweet.

The band of four players was great in support and there was no need for microphones for the performers, as we were so near. The singing was mainly very good although there were a few slips. But when you are that close to the action, you are immersed in the show and it did not matter or spoil the experience.

So thank you to Tooting Arts Club and all the performers. Thanks to Harringtons and the barbers across the road for sharing their premises. It was a wonderful experience.

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