There really couldn't be a more perfect place to stage a Victorian Melodrama than at Wilton's; as the world's oldest surviving music hall, it must have staged many such productions in it's long history. Its' shabby chic, yet atmospheric décor sent us back in time to when it was ok to boo and hiss at the villain and cheer on the good guys and girls (normally only permissible in pantomine these days).
This is a really interesting concept. This play first appeared on the stage in London in 1847 at Britannia Theatre, Hoxton in a melodrama, ‘The String of Pearls’, based on a popular “penny dreadful” serialised story. At the time, theatres would have employed their own orchestras to provide the accompanying music score, and this has been re-imagined for 2023. The original score is long-since lost, but Opera della Luna has restored the musical element of story-telling with an orchestra of 10 live musicians, playing music penned by British opera composers of the Victorian age to give it that authentic feel (although to stress again, this is not the actual original score).
The orchestra is an integral part of the show, not only providing the musical score for the singers, but also the sound effects for the action - it's amazing how a cello can be bowed to sound just like a squeaky hinged door opening!
Sweeny Todd - the fiend of Fleet Street - is played as the perfect Victorian villain by Nick Dwyer. He's a tall man who uses his size to intimidate the other members of the cast, and indeed the audience, who are told in no uncertain terms to stop booing/hissing at him. He has no motive apart from money, and all the conscience of a true psychopath. No-one is going to stand between him and the money that's to be made from his murderous ways.
The small cast often double up roles, which involve some speedy costume changes and a touch of conspiracy with the audience. This is played for laughs to the maximum in the final scene, where cast members wonder where other characters can be, leading to fast exits and returns.
All the cast are great, and appear to be enjoying themselves. I'm always in awe of the talent on display at Wilton's. Madeline Robinson who plays Johanna Oakley is both beautiful and has a beautiful singing voice. Whilst Paul Featherstone's Reverend Lupin was brilliantly comically creepy. Lynsey Docherty manages the transition from the cannibal-making pie shop owner Mrs Lovett to feisty Cecily Maybush with aplomb - Cecily's take down of the footpads is a masterclass in quick thinking.
A couple of minor negatives for me - the orchestra drowned out the actors/singers occasionally, which could be as we were seated near to the orchestra. And it felt a bit long in the second half, although perfectly entertaining.
The positives over-ride these though. Sweeney Todd - the Victorian Melodrama has hugely talented cast, the perfect setting and ambience, good bar with decent range of wines and beers (although I find it a bit odd to feature Adnams, as good as their beers are, when there are so many great London breweries who could be featured).
So, if you want to boo and hiss at a true villain - Sweeney Todd is your man!
Please note this is NOT a production of the musical by Stephen Sondheim.
Nick Dwyer (Sweeney Todd)
Caroline Kennedy (Tobias Ragg)
Lynsey Docherty (Mrs. Lovett/Cecily Maybush)
Madeline Robinson (Johanna Oakley)
Matthew Siveter (Jarvis Williams/Ben the Beefeater)
Paul Featherstone (Rev. Lupin/Jonas Fogg)
Matt Kellet (Mark Ingestrie/Jean Parmine)
Director Jeff Clarke
Conductor Toby Purser
Wilton’s Music Hall
London E1 8JB
Tuesday 25 - Saturday 29 April 2023
Tuesday - Saturday at 7. 30pm
and Saturday at 2.30pm
Running Time: approximately 120 mins
(plus interval) (I think that we were there from roughly 7.30 p.m. until 10.15 p.m.)
Venue Website: http://www.wiltons.org.uk/
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
£17.00 - £32.00
(£14.50 - £29.50 concessions)