I went to see the dress rehearsal production by the 4th Wall Theatre company at Questor's Playhouse in Ealing. I had mistakened it for a comedy. Instead, it was a dark musical about the famous demon barber of Fleet Street in London. 4th Wall's production employs a full orchestra and a full stage with a big cast. It's an ambitious project with different stage settings, one for the barber and pie shops, one for the judge's home, and additional sets for the ominous oven.
For my naivete, I was shocked into finding out more about the musical. Almost every Londoner knows about Sweeney Todd. He was a real person though the plot of the musical was not real. Sweeney Todd was convicted of killing a sailor and sentenced to death. His accomplice Mrs Lovett, a widow, committed suicide after her arrest so she could not be tried.
Since then, there have been legends and works of fiction spun out of this. He was the bogiest of all bogeymans. It became a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, as follows:
"In Sondheims play, Sweeney Todd is the alias of a man wrongfully accused of a crime and transported to Australia. The barber returns to Fleet Street, only to find that his wife and daughter have disappeared. His wife, the target of the lust of a judge, was driven to insanity, while his daughter was adopted by the judge out of a sense of remorse.
Todd meets up with Mrs. Lovett, who makes the worst pies in London and together they plot his revenge against the judge and a Beadle who assisted the judge in his nefarious plans. Made mad by his anger, Sweeney Todd begins killing as many of his customers as possible, which Mrs. Lovett uses for her pies.
Sailor Anthony, the hero of the play, falls in love with the ward of the judge, and is determined to reveal the heinous crimes of Sweeney Todd. In classic tragic formula, Sweeney Todds desire for revenge proves to be his undoing."
22 January 2003 Wednesday