Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sweeney Todd - The Elephant Tea Rooms - Review

Sweeney Todd
Elephant Tea Rooms, Sunderland
6th Sept 2016
Last night we were invited to a dress rehearsal of a new production of Sweeney Todd - in a tea room of all places. A tea room? I must admit, not having been to The Elephant Tea Rooms before, I was imagining quaint china and lacey tablecloths. It didn't quite fit as my idea of a venue for Sweeney Todd. A Miss Marple Investigates seemed a more appropriate production...Just goes to show you should never make assumptions. The Elephant Tea Rooms is no quaint teashop. It is interesting and quirky with big old oak tables and a mish-mash of different chairs, and dimly lit  (though the subdued lighting may have been deliberate for the evening's entertainment - perhaps during the day it is bright and cheery?) Perhaps a macabre murder might fit after all. The ambience was definitely not Miss Marplish!
And so among the tables and chairs (filled by the family and friends of the cast for this dress rehearsal, plus a couple of reviewers) and with the backdrop of a selection of exotic teas, the action began. Dramatic, we are plunged straight in as Anthony and Mr Todd disembark from a ship and say their farewells - Anthony to go onwards to Plymouth and Todd to 'a thing he must do'. He is anxious to be away and brusque with a friend who saved his life. Immediately we are aware of mystery and an urgency around Mr Todd.
The drama and suspense builds throughout this intriguing production, cast members are seated in amongst the audience, rising slowly to sing the ensemble pieces, and moving between the tables making eye contact with members of the audience, at times speaking to them and including them in the action. It is in your face theatre and there is nowhere to hide from it - so if you have a ticket be prepared to be included in the drama (especially if you have a lot of, or too little, hair, or a beard in need of a trim!)
There are so many good performances in this but if I have to single out any for special attention, then I particularly like Jenni Winter as Nellie Lovett - she was a delight with her self deprecating attitude to being the purveyor of "the worst pies in London"  and as she proffers mischievous yet down to earth advice on how to dispose of the bodies. Liam Gilbert as Todd has a marvellous voice and portrays perfectly the many aspects of the barber's unbalanced character. Marie Swan, the Beggar Woman, has the interaction with the audience spot on, eliciting a great mix of interest and discomfort in those she chooses to grace with her attention. Altogether the cast are a grand mix of flawed characters, each adding to the sinister and macabre story.
The asylum scene was excellent - a cacophony of shrieks and cries that makes you positively uncomfortable.
This is a macabre story, but it is also full of humour - albeit dark - so there are some chuckles and the odd belly laugh in amongst the gasps of horror. This is probably just as well for those of you who are partaking of a pie or two while watching (I'm not sure how conducive Sweeny Todd is to good digestion!).   
Tuesday night was the dress rehearsal, and the first full run through the cast had had in the venue. There were a couple of minor hiccups but nothing drastic, and considering the tight production schedule, they have done a fantastic job. Under the direction of Matthew Rankcom they have produced an impressive and  quite unique theatrical experience. If you are going along you are in for a treat and a half - but don't worry, we have it on good authority that the meat in the pies is beef...

Sweeney Todd - Liam Gilbert
Jenni Winter - Nellie Lovett
Stephen Stokoe - Judge Turpin
Shaun Crosby - Beadle Bamford
Gemma Hutchinson/marie Swan - Beggar Woman
Lewis Harley - Tobias Ragg
Jamie Douglass - Adolpho Pirelli
Matthew Rankcom - Anthony
Emily Miller - Johanna
Ashleigh Bentham   )
Cat Louise Moody   ) Ensemle
Steve Udale            )

Sweeney Todd plays at the Elephant Tea Rooms till the 10th Sept.

Denise Sparrowhawk


  1. Great review, love these up close and personal productions

    1. Thanks Snaily. It was certainly a different (in a good way) theatrical experience.