Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls

Tue 5th – Sat 9th March 2013


Mike Cressey

at 20:48 on 12th Mar 2013



Set in the grimy labyrinth of Victorian London, Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls innovatively follows the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Marcus Ingestrie, the young sweetheart of a spectacle shop owner’s daughter, Johanna Oakley. As the plot unfolds, we become aware that the youthful Mr Ingestrie (Russell Lamb) and his love for Miss Oakley (Jess Groocock) are not lost at sea as first supposed, but are in fact victims to the machinations of the murderous barber Sweeney Todd (Mike Clarke) and his gruesome business partner and lover, pie shop owner Mrs Cornelia Lovett (Idgie Beau). At first I was unsure how to approach such a heavy plot line and extensive cast list, but, though in parts predictably unrefined, this ambitious attempt at promenade musical theatre left me pleasantly entertained.

Set in Durham’s Indoor Market, the characters of Dave Spencer’s imaginative adaptation of Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls used all the space available to them, to charming effect. Upon being split into two groups the audience are invited to follow either the lecherous old Gideon Philpotts (Dave Spencer) into Todd’s barber shop, or the toothless and gurning Mildred Baxter (Charlotte Whistlecroft) into Jane Oakley’s spectacle shop. For the most part this use of Greek Tragedy-style story-telling, inviting the audience to piece the mystery together themselves from clues from off-stage action, worked well. But there were certainly instances in which I would have liked to linger in a scene for a moment longer in order to try to catch up. Given the difficulty of smoothly and lucidly advancing a plot through musical numbers, I would perhaps have preferred to have neglected the portion of the play in which bewildered audience members are encouraged to wander around the set at their will in favour of a more comprehensive exploration of the story line in sections of acted dialogue. That said, though they were at times weakly performed, the competent composition of the ‘musical’ aspects of the performance added to the seedy atmosphere Spencer presumably wished to evoke, and left me wanting to slap my thighs and twang my braces along with the best of the vomiting urchins in the chorus.

With a generally strong performance from the supporting cast and musicians, delightfully sinister portrayals of Todd and Lovett from Clarke and Beau (the latter of which was the strongest aspect of the whole production), and the amorous vigour of Lamb and Groocock, Spencer’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd was an enjoyable romp. The Indoor Market setting was used well, and if minor rough edges such as Marcus Ingestrie shouting the words ‘Mrs Lovett’s pies are made of human flesh!’ in front of a five-star food safety rating sticker can be overlooked, then Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls can be considered a (mild) success.


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