Victorian Vices - Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls

Fri 1st – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Freya Judd

at 10:03 on 13th Aug 2014

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Immersive theatre is tricky to do, especially with the limited space and budget that comes with performing at the Edinburgh Frings. Another Soup, however, made a fair stab at creating their own immersive version of the famous legend of the demon barber, and entertained me along the way.

By far and away the most impressive aspect of the performance was the music, which – far from being lifted from the Sondheim musical, was completely original. I always think that the acid test from any musical performance is whether or not I walk away singing one of the songs. Jo Turner’s outstanding score showed confidence and flare, and I am still singing about pies under my breath.

The cast did a good job of translating the score into reality – the best moments of the show were the ensemble songs, which really did border on spine-tingling. Moreover, the live accompaniment did absolutely stirling work, providing musical cues and backing music which was polished without being too intrusive.

Many of the actors also gave strong independent performances – Idgie Beau as Cornelia Lovett was extremely convincing, whilst Jonathan R Parsonage gave a rather good turn as the demented Todd. Elsewhere, the cast were limited by the script, which wasn’t quite as good as the score: whilst I am all for rendering more LGBTQ+ relationships on stage, the two lesbian lovers seemed an extremely random addition to the performance.

There were a few more flaws in this production of ‘The String of Pearls’. Parsonage and Beau literally couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and although both are attractive and obviously have great chemistry, I couldn’t help but wonder why they had to kiss so often. Maybe they fancy each other, or maybe I’m just single and bitter. Either way, it definitely started to make me feel like the show could descend into a burlesque act any second.

The plot was also a bit confusing – although most of the audience were familiar with the story, the fact that the action jumped backwards and forwards in time led to some definite complications. More than anything, it meant that the necessary character development was somewhat hampered. I suspect that had the play been told in a more linear fashion, its successes would have shone more.

Ultimately, Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls was a pretty entertaining evening – it was fun to stand rather than sit, and the cast whole-heartedly entered into engaging with the audience. Some flaws in design and in the script meant that it wasn’t an outstanding piece of art, but if you have a free evening I’d recommend it all the same.

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Catherine Edwards

at 10:08 on 13th Aug 2014

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Immersive promedade theatre about a cannibalistic piemaker might not be for the faint-hearted, but if you've got the stomach for it, I strongly recommend Another Soup's interpretation of Sweeney Todd. The cast were in character from the moment we joined the queue, before leading us upstairs to join them in Victorian London.

The show requires an audience happy to stand for the full eighty minutes and take on the role of voyeur, moving with the cast during the play (though chairs are provided for anyone who requires one). This had its drawbacks – being somewhat under average height, I found it difficult to follow when the action switched suddenly to the opposite side of the room. But on the whole it was a very effective technique, leaving it impossible not to be drawn into the show's atmosphere.

The team behind the show have done an incredible job with the adaptation, particularly director and writer Dave Spencer and composer/musical director Jo Turner, and it was hard to believe that the production had been dreamed up by such a young company. Turner's score was haunting at times, beautifully performed by the live band, and I found myself humming the closing song for the rest of the evening.

The show revels in its gruesome aspects and does a great job of creating an eerie atmosphere. The plot could have been 'meatier', so to speak, as it seemed to play it safe and allowed little room for character development – the use of flashback scenes also seemed unnecessarily hard to follow.

However, these felt like minor flaws in an otherwise accomplished production, and the writing was in most places very well done, with some excellent moments. Mrs Lovett's character, for example, has been interpreted as the mastermind behind the pie-baking scheme, a lustful and ruthless murderess intelligently portrayed by Idgie Beau.

Indeed, the whole cast were highly convincing as they crawled and lurched through the crowds, pulling audience members into the heart of the action. It would be hard to pinpoint any stand-out performers; the show was at its best when the cast performed as an ensemble and the venue truly came alive with the music, chatter and movement of Victorian London.

It was without a doubt the experimental aspects of the direction, atmosphere and beautiful score which held this piece together and made it a stand-out production that will leave an impression. For a unique and truly memorable theatrical experience, join Another Soup for a captivating evening.

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