THEATRE REVIEW: Lovett + Todd, King’s Head Theatre

running until 1 August

An interesting initial concept becomes an unfortunately jumbled affair
Lovett + Todd, King's Head Theatre (c) Another Soup
Daniel Collard as Sweeney and Louise Torres-Ryan as Mrs Lovett  (c) Another Soup

Taking the story of Sweeney Todd as its inspiration, Lovett + Todd explores the grisly tale from the point of view of Mrs Lovett, with her character very much becoming the driving force behind the gruesome murders and cannibalistic goings-on. With new music by composer Jo Turner, on paper it’s a promising prospect. Sweeney Todd is very much in vogue at the moment, what with English National Opera and Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop both hosting productions this year. However, structural and lyrical issues plague this production, and the cast can’t do quite enough to pull it back.

Louise Torres-Ryan’s Mrs Lovett has plenty of gut and gumption, and really ramps up the depraved seductress act, flashing her eyes at Sweeney and the audience as she – rather suddenly, it must be said – instigates her wicked way to earn a living. However, her vocals are sadly weak as she noticeably struggles in the higher register. Opposite her as Sweeney, Daniel Collard fares better, although I’m still not convinced by the characterisation of this character as so utterly down trodden and malleable.

With the exception of Rachael Garnett as Amelia, the rest of the cast blend together in an ensemble that contains no other rounded characters. That said, they do throw their all into this Gothic caper – in character from the moment the auditorium opens, they embrace the comedic notes of the piece and interact with the audience to draw them into the small space.

Turner’s score is patchy, with the pastiche of the barber shop quartet certainly the stand-out number. However, overall the songs are rather samey and oddly scattered throughout the piece: at times they hamper rather than drive the narrative and one or two could be dropped without any noticeable loss to the structure. It is also lacking lyrical subtlety – awkward rhymes prevail, and there’s only so many times we can hear people singing in blunt terms about how to kill babies or whether to bake someone into a pie before it all starts to lose credibility, even within the context of this extreme tale. The production doesn’t seem to know where it’s placing itself, and falls messily somewhere between drama, melodrama and farce, with elements of folk and tango shoe-horned into the music for good measure.

It’s not an unenjoyable evening, as many moments raise a smile, but you’re left with a feeling of uncertainty as to the driving force and purpose of this production. An interesting initial concept becomes an unfortunately jumbled affair.

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