A brand new stage adaptation of Victorian melodrama Sweeney Todd – based on the original Penny Dreadful short story – sees serial killer Todd out for blood… while pie baker Mrs Lovett is only too willing to dispose of the evidence. What will become of the citizens of Fleet Street? Find out in Tread the Boards’ new production, which comes to The Attic Theatre, Stratford, from tonight. Artistic Director John-Robert Partridge, pictured right, tells Herald arts all about it
Tread the Boards have added your own twist to the infamous tale of Sweeney Todd – tell us about your adaptation.
We have a history of adapting famous novels and stories into stage plays we have explored titles from Austen and Brontë to Conan Doyle. My favourite stories to adapt have been our halloween offering. So far we have created stage productions of Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera and now Sweeney Todd. It has been on our list for some time so it’s exciting to finally do it. We have kept truthful to the original Penny Dreadful, known as The String of Pearls, following the disappearance of a sailor and an expensive pearl necklace and how Sweeney Todd covers his tracks. The story is certainly more detective story than out and out horror
What is the perennial appeal of the story?
I think if we are being honest with ourselves everyone loves a bit of gore especially at Halloween. The idea of someone cooking someone in a pie has fascinated people for hundreds of years – Shakespeare was a prime candidate [as in Titus Andronicus]. People just love the dark and unusual and enjoy allowing their imaginations to run wild. Also unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, which are so obviously fiction stories, Sweeney Todd is a barber and Mrs Lovetts runs a shop – no super powers or incredible feats of strength just two ordinary people committing terrible crimes. Looking at the intrigue that surrounds Jack the Ripper attracts widespread fascination and I think Sweeney Todd falls into a similar bracket.
A lot of people associate Sweeney Todd with the Sondheim musical or the Tim Burton film – are you influenced by them at all?
Obviously the musical is well known and when mentioning Sweeney Todd the first question we are asked is ‘is it a musical?’. What’s so interesting about the musical is they change Sweeney to an antihero who is a victim of circumstance, and who the audience root for. Mrs Lovett is the beautiful love interest and Judge Turpin the evil baddie we can all hate – quite different from the original story.
What has inspired us is the creation of the barbers chair. Our set designer Daniel Arbon has created an amazing fully working chair reminiscent of the one you will see in the film. In the original story, and many TV and film adaptations, the chair is fixed to the floor and the entire floor moves – we can’t do that in the Attic.
What else has influenced the production?
Our Halloween shows are now fairly infamous in Stratford for their steam punk style. Merging Victoriana with modern attire to create a quirky look. It’s in period but with a twist. The set is perhaps our most ambitious to date with a fully working chair, dumb waiter, levels and backdrop. This has heavily influenced the direction as we have been able to do things we have never done before which is very exciting.
Tell us about the cast.
Its a delight to work with so many talented actors and this show is no exception. Taking the title role is James Tanton, recently seen playing The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, so a rather big change! We have Royal Birmingham Conservatoire graduates Ellie Forrest as Mrs Lovett, Tom Riddell as Mr Carlisle and Kate Gee-Finch as Johanna Oakleigh. We also have Halloween returner Ade Daniel who famously played the Monster in Frankenstein three years ago. Ashleigh Dickinson is back after appearing in Poles Apart and The Wizard of Oz this year. Stage Fight Choreographer Marc Alden Taylor also returns this year to stage all the fights and also appear in the production. Joe Deverell-Smith, who made his debut for us this year with appearances in Pride and Prejudice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is back and new to the company is Nicole Jackson, a recent graduate from Bath Spa University, who takes the role of barber’s boy Tobias Ragg.
The production is here in time for Halloween, can audiences expect fright and terror?
YES! I am a trained and qualified scare instructor (it’s actually a thing!) so I like to add in as many scares and jumps for the audience as we go on. Expect scenes of darkness, loud noises, blood and gore and tricks. It’s the scariest ticket in town this Halloween but we would advise if you are of a nervous disposition, pregnant or have a heart condition this show might be a scare too far! But if your feeling brave and up for the challenge do come along and enjoy a night of frights and tasty bites!
What else has Tread the Boards got coming up for the rest of the year?
We have Andrew Woolley returning to direct for us after Poles Apart earlier in the year with an all female cast for a production of Lilies on the Land to co-incide with the Remembrance Day Memorial. We have a Halloween comedy improv night on the 29th October, A Night at the Musicals on the 8th December, which is a Songs from the Silver Screen. And rounding off the year will be Stratford-upon-Avon’s longest-running professional pantomime, this season it’s Aladdin.
Next year marks our 10-year Anniversary at the Attic Theatre and we are excited to announce the new season due to be announced this month!! Then just the small matter of welcoming the newest member of the company in February when Catherine and I have the very first Tread the Boards baby.
Aw, congratulations from Herald arts!
WHERE AND WHEN: Sweeney Todd by Treads the Boards is on at Stratford’s Attic Theatre from until 4th November. See www.treadtheboardstheatre.co.uk for tickets