Theatre

Sweeney Todd: His Life, Times and Execution! @ Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh



cast list
Frank Wurzinger, Lizzie Wort, Conrad Sharp, Helen Taylor and Alfie Boyd

directed by
Alexander Parsonage
Some shows are on your radar from the beginning. From before the beginning in fact, from the moment you first flick through the shiny pages of the Edinburgh Fringe programme. Others creep up on you, via word of mouth, a flutter in the air. Go and see this, people say.

Theres a lot of queuing in Edinburgh. A lot of people snaking up staircases and clustered around doorways, filling the empty minutes until the next show start.

People tend to talk, in a way they wouldnt at the post office or at the bank. Recommendations are exchanged. And while you have to allow for people plugging their brothers girlfriends aunties show, most people just want to share an experience: I saw this thing. It was surprising, exciting, engaging. You should go and see too.
This is what happened with Sweeney Todd. Hovering in the murky intestines of the Underbelly, waiting in line, I ended up in conversation with the people behind me and they described this show. Not the musical, they said, not Sondheim, but the story of the barber and his execution told through puppetry and mime and music. Go and see it, they said; and I did.

Alexander Parsonages production began life at Jacksons Lane Theatre in London. Its not the Sondheim musical, as the couple stressed, but a visually creative retelling of the Sweeny Todd story full of ghoulish white faced men, bawdy women in corsets and creaky old judges in dusty wigs. It opens in New Gate Prison, where the dastardly Sweeeney is awaiting death by hanging for his bloody crimes but in neat subversion of the story, he turns out to be a sweet, open-faced, near silent innocent. It just happens that people around him tend to die, messily.

After his gin-craving parents freeze to death, the young Sweeney is taken in as a barbers apprentice and is taught a trade. But the bodies keep falling, first the barber, then his customers; fortunately Mrs Lovett alights on a mutually satisfying solution involving pies.

Frank Wurzinger is incredibly endearing as Sweeney, a boy adrift amidst a carnival of grotesques. A talented juggler and mime artist, hes fascinating to watch and is the anchor in an inventive and incredibly atmospheric show full of puppets, shadows, music, movement and a very well choreographed wardrobe.

It could possibly stand to shed ten minutes, but this is a delightful production, often wickedly funny and gleefully gory and brimming with the kind of nastiness that kids, if theyre not too young and not too sensitive to such things, should get a real kick out of. Theres a tinge of Shock-headed Peter to proceedings but while the influences are sometimes obvious, it matters not, in what is a hugely enjoyable piece of theatre. I’m glad I listened.



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