What a magnificent end to a perfect week! These two performances had the most eager audiences and both Imelda and Michael seemed really touched during their standing ovation which was accompanied by howls of delight from a wild crowd.
No one scares you finer than these two. An absolute delight to watch and listen. We certainly have not heard his voice being that versatile before…amazing highs and lows, one note held so long that you wondered whether he actually needs to breathe at all…we were in fan heaven.
We can only say that 10 times was definitely not enough and we cannot wait to be back in Fleet Street in 3 weeks for the final two shows. Fingers crossed that they had the go to transfer by then. The thought of never seeing Mr Todd again would indeed be unbearable – and who would have thought that at the beginning of our little journey? But since it is not absolutely certain that it will transfer (also a question of getting the right theatre and two VERY busy schedules synchronized) we can only urge you to come and see it. I would say words fail us to describe the utter triumph which is this production but we have been pretty wordy already, haven’t we?
It’s just that we will miss our favoroutie scenes so much: Epiphany of course, because it is just that. Worst pies in London, Have a little Priest (which got funnier every time we saw it, we think Mr Ball enjoys to get a few laughs himself now - the audience was in hysterics)and By the Sea - or as we lovingly call it “at home with the serial killers". Honestly, he is sitting in a comfy chair with a pussy cat cover! And that snog (intrigued now?) is just too wonderful for words.
But we will stop gushing - for now.
They now do merchandise for the show (t-shirts, hoodies and poster) but most stuff seemed to have sold out on the day. Stage door before was incredibly busy (we counted some 50 people) and afterwards but he was really generous with his time.
Afterwards we had a lovely after-show time with friends and half the cast (well, they were in the same room, naturally we did not stare, approach or anything). It was amazing though because at one point they sang Happy Birthday for one of their ranks and truly, we have NEVER heard that song sound like this. Just incredible! We wanted a CD of it!!
So now the bags are packed and we have to face the grim reality of flights, traffic jams and work (could we get one of those razors, please?). But the countdown is running. Soon we will back at the barber’s and tell you all about it.
For us Mr Todd is definitely not evil but merely morally challanged. Go Sweeney!Permalink
Another fabulous night at the Barber’s yesterday. No Stephen Sondheim sadly, but he will be in next week we were told.
Stage door was good fun and we got our photo with Mr Todd. Mmmh all mean and glowering.
Unfortunately the pics came with a price. When Kerstin handed the camera to Julia the first bunny let it drop and while it’s still working it’s literally broken at the battery compartment. Great, not. Fingers crossed it can be repaired.
Totally overwhelmed again. Our final front row (for this run). There is no being too close for this show. The stage is very low and it is appropriately terrifying to be so close to those razor blades. This time it felt even more intense (lots of heavy breathing down Imelda’s microphone after Epiphany – chills down our spines!). No laughter at the death scene but instead (hooray!) a very impressed audience yet again.
We cannot believe the week has gone so fast. Only two more shows and then it’s packing time. At least it is a nice day. Sun is out (it’s cold though). And naturally we do keep our fingers crossed for Wales this morning.
Just like every day of the week we woke up with Sweeney tunes in our heads. At least it’s Worst Pies in London now and not the very life-affirming line “We all deserve to die! Even you Mrs Lovett, even I!”. While this number (it’s from Epiphany) is the absolute highlight of the show, it really does not help to cheer you up in the mornings.
Wouldn’t it be dreamy to get a DVD recording of this production (and an original Chichester cast recording while we’re at it)? We know this is not what happens with musicals these days and how theatre is all about being transient, but it would definitely deserve to be captured for posterity.Permalink
Yesterday’s stage door was a short but sweet affair. We managed to ask him whether he’d be part of the post-performance discussion that was planned for this night. No, he said. Well, shame, as we thought it would have been interesting but you didn’t want to miss out on waving him good night, right? Okay, we are sure this is something only fellow fans will be able to understand. Ah well, we had a lovely post-stage door chat at the theatre bar next door and were soon back with Mr T and Mrs L.
If anything the show gets better with each viewing. There is always something new to discover and words simply cannot describe the sheer brilliance of Michael’s performance. Leaves us breathless and shaken every single time.
A special mention must go to the stunning visuals of the show. The lighting is superb and it really feels like watching an epic movie up for the Oscar for best photography. Some of the pictures they created (him backlit, a towering silhouette above the audience) will stay with us forever. No doubt about that.
Scene applause again for Epiphany. We are torn on that one, as there is really no question as to whether he deserves this (a revelation indeed), but it is interrupting a very tense moment. At least no laughter at Sweeney’s death this time.
So what to do now. Throughout the entire interval there had been loads of discussions whether we would all stay for the post-show talk or leave for the stage door. What if he did appear after all? Why wouldn’t they let us wave him good bye and then back in again? What to do, what to do? Our little group gathered in the auditorium for a quick pow wow after the final bravos of the evening. Word had it that he was doing it after all, so we gladly rushed back to our seats…to find them blocked by people who had moved forward a few rows. We all apologized and said that we had merely been talking to our friends down the aisle and most of the people moved back to their own seats or took one of the other vacant ones but not so much luck for Bunny Kerstin. The lady on her place refused to move. We had left our seats full stop. Heated discussion ensued and even an usher had trouble persuading the lady to take up one of the other seats. Not a lot of love around us after this intermezzo. Her friends were quite put out we fear, but come one, we had merely wanted to sit down again after having been away for 1 minute. And we were also sitting with friends.
Anyways, the cast appeared on stage to big applause (really many of them were so kind to spend a little while longer with us). When Michael came on stage the substantial crowd erupted into massive cheers. He did look rather delicious in purple shirt and jeans (no socks…mmmh). We were allowed to ask questions then. Many good questions from the audience. Imelda had brought her cute little dog (“This is Molly with her carer,” introduced Mr Ball LOL). Were they inspired by the movie, er no, not really did it look like it? The idea to set it in more modern times was to make it more relatable for a modern audience and also to shake off all the ghosts of past productions or indeed the movie. They had an incredibly short rehearsal period of 5 weeks to get to this perfection (Michael and Imelda had rehearsed an extra week together before this). Many young actors in the audience who wanted advise on auditions and getting into character. Really insightful replies by Imelda an all the others. Did they know they had a hit when still in rehearsals. You could tell they all thought yes, they did really, but didn’t want to sound too self-absorbed so went for they knew it when they had the audience in for the first time.
A daring question on the temperamental chute (some victims were rather hesitant to slide down into the bakehouse). They explained how the blood is based on sugar and is a very sticky affair. So at one point, when one poor victim was indeed stuck in the middle (we had seen this show) Michael told us all how eventually a hand came up from below and pulled the actor down and out of sight. And he had to remain singing throughout the entire drama! LOL mind you, as we said, we had been present at the incident and you couldn’t see the tiniest hint of a flicker of irritation on his face or hear it in his voice. That’s a true professional for you.
Another question surrounded the blood flow during the killings. As sometimes you hardly see a drop and at other times it’s splashing around like a broken water pipe. The guy who plays Sweeney’s first nameless victim explained the situation. When they started rehearsing with the blood they all had belts that made them look like suicide bombers, including blood packs and battery packs and so on. They needed to push a button and the blood was supposed squirt. At the beginning it merely trickled and then exploded into Michael’s face. Now they do this mechanically in a way. Actually he did not completely reply to this question.
There was lots of praise on stage and off stage for the actors, the musical direction, the sound design and the set. Michael explained how important the sound design was for the show as they did not use the existing system of the Festival Theatre, but had something individually designed installed. It’s rather complicated but there seem to be many small speakers that are individually controlled.
Then he continued to talk about the emotional impact of the opening scene, when he is still hidden from view and hears the almost operatic intro from the ensemble. He said the soundwaves hit you and what an amazing moment it is, when the entire cast calls out to him (“Sweeney, Sweeney…!”). So, if we ever get the chance…. This earned him a big laugh. As if they’d ever give us the chance to sit on that chair in turn…. We wish!
It was over all too soon, but they had all been very generous with their spare time.
At the stage door afterwards there was this huge crowd of acting school students and we thought he’d never get out of there, but just like in Rugby, where there is a huge huddle of players and the ball sometimes escapes unnoticed, he appeared in front of us after just a few moments and waved good night. How he did it, we will never know! The cast then went into the bar of the opposite Minerva theatre. So this was our clue to go. It’s really not the done thing to wait for him after he said good-bye. Did not stop some though.
The sun is shining in Chichester today and we cannot believe it’s Friday already. We’ll get back to you soon.Permalink
The best thing about matinee days in autumn is that the stage door is in enough daylight for photos. When he usually arrives around 6 pm it gets a bit tricky, especially when there are clouds. Okay, so we had drizzle but are used to this now.
We keep wondering how he can do it twice in a row though. It’s such a demanding role, vocally but also emotionally. As you might have seen in his tweet he was not exactly jubilating at the prospect…but of course you could not tell that during the performances. Not even remotely. It was all there, tenderness, fierce fury, transformation from angry husband to vengeful god.
Audiences were a bit weird. No lack of enthusiasm or anything. Quite the contrary, we dare say the matinee crowd was the most enthusiastic we had so far. There was even scene applause after Epiphany (which STILL scares the hell out of us!). Well-deserved of course, but we feel that it’s not meant to be there as the music continues at the end of the song until the scene progresses. But they did laugh in the most peculiar places. We are now used to people laughing during Mrs Lovett’s death scene – but honestly people: laughing when Sweeney is killed?? I mean, he cradles his dead wife (killed by his own hand) and then embraces death by his own knife in the hands of a confused boy – where is the humor in that? Yes, okay, Germans are not famous for their sense of humor, but come on, surely there cannot be fun in a devastatingly sad scene such as this?
But anyhow, the applause at the end was rapturous and everyone loved it, so that was good.
No laughter at Sweeney’s death in the second show (phew!) but lots of gasps of horror and excited whispering all around us. You couldn’t tell it was the second show of the day, everyone seemed so fresh and gosh, is he a force to be reckoned with. We were still thoroughly enjoying every second of the show and this has been our sixth Sweeney. It just HAS to transfer. A mere 6 weeks is not nearly enough. Everyone should have the chance to see this. So keep your fingers (and toes) tightly crossed.
The poor thing looked sooo tired when he came out afterwards so no one kept him for long. He gave us all a royal wave from his beautiful car and here we are now. Only 4 more Sweeneys left this trip…we need a transfer date please!Permalink
We spent most of the day with a spot of sight-seeing and visited picturesque Arundel. We have passed the castle countless times in various tours. So it was about time. We were not disappointed, so go, if you can.
We sadly missed him go in, because they had a cover run, meaning that all the understudies get to “perform a matinee” without an actual audience. We had a lovely chat with Lucy May Barker (Johanna), what a sweet and lovely girl.
What can we say? It gets better every time we see it. We are definitely in team Sweeney and have everything crossed for a transfer into the West End. Rumour has it that Stephen Sondheim will be in on Friday and if he gives his thumbs up the road to London should be pretty clear.
The audience was very keen, lots of laughter, lots of gasps, shocked murmuring and mostly in the right places. It escapes us completely however, why audiences insist on laughing when Mrs. Lovett finds her grizzly end. We can’t find a spot of humour in it.
There was a minor glitch that night as in one of Sweeney’s victims wouldn’t slide down through the chute to the bake house, but was stuck in the middle for a short time. It did work eventually though. Another rousing reception at the end.
What we have experienced ourselves and had in conversations with others is, that you should see the show more than once. You need a few viewings to get over the shock of it all. After four performances we are now thoroughly enjoying every second of it and are definitely in team Sweeney. We never thought we’d enjoy this so much, but really looking forward to every performance and we already wish we could stay longer.
So book this extra ticket and join team Sweeney in Chichester.Permalink
We have spent the day in beautiful, beautiful Chichester. We have loved the place for many years and are very happy indeed to have a reason now to spend a whole week at the south coast. Many thanks to Mr Ball for that!
We were much too early at the stage door but at least we had fun company and the wait would not have been a problem if it hadn’t been for a fierce wind that started t pick up in the afternoon. When we left our flat it was really warm (too warm for a jacket) but at the back of the theatre it was freezing cold after a while. Ah well, no on forces us to stand there for….let’s just say a long, long while. LOL
The crowd was smaller than Saturday (no surprise there). When Michael arrived he was on the phone in his car and very kindly finished the conversation before getting out to us (he could easily have gotten out, shrugged apologetically, waved and walked straight in). But naturally you want to give him some privacy, so we were standing there looking everywhere except for the car for several minutes. So imagine us all standing there trying desperately not to look at the very person we all came to do a proper looking at. Welcome to the twilight zone. LOL As always he took his time (and gosh is he looking fiiiine . A bit like Alex form Aspects with a beard. So THAT’s what has become of the boy – a serial killer.
Not much time for anything else after the stage door, so we rushed home, did the photos and changed.
Can we trust you with a secret? When we booked the tickets for this trip we thought we must have finally lost it. Everyone kept saying what a sad, sinister and depressing show Sweeney Todd was an we decided to spend the last few days of our year’s holiday seeing the show 8 times in one week (plus the two shows on Saturday when we arrived, so 10 time all in all this trip). We were sure we would need anti- depressants afterwards. And now guess what: we could not wait to be back in the theatre, to hear the first notes again, to enjoy the privilege of seeing a masterpiece in very able hands. The tunes stay with you and are very melodic in their melancholic beauty, the staging is just perfect (we feel very, very fitting for a West End stage) and we already dread having to fly home again, and then having only 2 shows left. 12 Sweeneys won’t be enough. It’s addictive!
So there we were again in the company of this haunting, terrifying, handsome stranger on stage.
Once you get over the shock of the gruesome story (yes, they really ARE discussing selling pies with human filling etc. etc.) you can begin to relate to Mrs Lovett finding a dark but compelling beauty in this desperate man. And the sadness…on the brink of tears we watched him mourn the loss of his wife and daughter on his knees (such a powerful gesture of resigned sorrow) and transform from avenger to merciless serial killer. There was a definitive urge to reach out and comfort him at one point, but we would never have Mrs Lovett’s courage to touch him while he’s holding a hungry razor blade ready to strike. Just to clarify, we STILL move as far backwards as the seats allow us when he gets all angry and bloodthirsty (utter terror when he is beginning to circle Mrs Lovett in the finale, really, this is utmost terrifying. A man turned predator.). Just because you can appreciate the beauty in the beast doesn’t mean you lose perspective. This is a deadly man and you would not survive his company long. So we enjoy sitting in the safety of the dark auditorium – spellbound and deliciously horrified at the same time.
It was another great night out and we could hear the people behind gasping in shock and fear every now and then. Always a good sign. And indeed the entire cast received a rousing applause and many bravos at the end. It’s a bit of a relief every time you see him smile at the “curtain call” (there is no curtain at the Festival Theatre), a genuine, warm smile. Not this cold, merciless smile of a stranger.
When it comes to audience reaction it is fascinating to see how people react to being afraid: whenever there is only the hint of an opportunity to do so, people will laugh with all their relieved might. Naturally Mrs Lovett’s character offers many a chance for this but it is the relieved laughter people display at the smallest hint of humor coming from Mr. Todd that is endearing.
What a privilege to be there and behold this breathtaking performance and to be able to go again and again. We would have regretted it not booking tickets for all the shows and one more trusting in Michael’s judgment paid off. He knows his stuff, we know we like his stuff, so we book it, whatever it is. This has been our policy since the Donmar all those years ago and we were never disappointed.
More sightseeing today and then it’s back to the theatre for another rendezvous with Mr. Todd (maybe it’s best to be wearing a scarf…).Permalink
Some of you seem to love our little travel talk or our travel “nightmares”. No such thing this time. Yes, we both independently circled London with our planes for some time and flights were slightly delayed even before this, but that’s usual.
Should you remember the tour, you might remember that one of us (aka Kerstin) managed to leave the sat nav at home. Well, who needs a sat nav, if you are travelling the roads of England and Wales for two weeks? Exactly. We got ourselves a car for the Chichester week to get around a bit. Now, you might guess, what the last phone calls between Julia and Kerstin went like (J: Don’t forget the sat nav! K: No, I WON’T! J: go and check again. K: I don’t have to, I know I packed it. J: Are you really 100% sure? And so on….). Well, and she did indeed pack it, she even packed both (aka, the one bought in Birmingham in June and the old one).
So everything was perfect, until we were almost there and the sat nav said the battery was low, although it was stuck into the lighter socket. Shortly after that message it went dead and could not be resurrected again. Eeeeek. Luckily we know the region around here well enough and managed to find the Travelodge for our first night without trouble, but what would we do for the rest of the week, if our sat nav would not charge?
Then the next morning and with daylight, we could see that our car had a separate socket for sat navs and stuff like it. WE plugged it in and tada! It was charging again. Phew.
We already knew that Michael is his own chauffeur for the Sweeney Todd run, but it was still weird to see him drive up himself. We were quite impressed with his reverse parking skills, especially when you have 20 people watching you drive a big car. Hats off. AS far as stage doors go, this was semi-crowded, but there’s a lot of space so it was not too bad. It also seemed as if there was an invisible line at a certain point that no one crossed, so he could walk the last few yards undisturbed. For some reason we felt he looked more different with this smaller beard than he did at Kismet. If you don’t hear him talk and don’t watch closely, you would not know it was him. Naturally we do look closely, it has to be said. Appropriately stage dooring seemed quieter than in Hairspray days. Most people there knew what was to come and as Andrew so aptly put it: “This is very different from Hairspray!” We saw Imelda Staunton arrive as well. She was on the phone. No one except a group of autograph hunters disturbed her.
It’s good when there is a bigger crowd on the first day of a trip. It gives you the opportunity to get used to the shock of seeing him in the flesh so close after such a long wait. And other people having him sign things and pose for photos you can lean back, enjoy the view without having to kick yourself afterwards for not speaking to him when you had the chance and were all alone. Plus it was not raining. A good start.
Everything went smoothly after that (almost). We collected the keys for our really nice holiday flat (YAY! We can pretend to be living in England! We even have a washing machine! ) And we only almost missed our first performance…it was a close – wait for it – shave! Haha. We simply underestimated the parking situation before the matinee (there is this huge car par for 900 cars right in the back of the theatre) and had to head for the estate agents to collect said keys. When we returned to the car park there was mayhem! What with shoppers and two theatre with matinees 900 spaces can be too few indeed. We circled and circled and the clock kept ticking. 1:50 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:05 pm – the matinee would begin at 2:15 and we really, really did not want t be late for our first show. We wouldn’t know if they would have let us in before the interval. But then: RELIEF! A car left and we managed to get into the theatre just in time. And completely freaked out of course. Perfect mood….
And now off to the reason we are here for: Michael Ball and Sweeney Todd at the Festival Theatre in Chichester.
Sweeney Todd is the story of a barber with his beautiful wife, who is charged for a crime he did not commit by a jealous judge who desires the beautiful wife. Benjamin Barker (that’s Sweeney Todd’s real name) is condemned to serve a life sentence in Australia. The play sets in when he returns home, having escaped the prison island to search for his wife and daughter.
He now goes under the name of Sweeney Todd. When he returns home he finds out by the owner of a run down pie shop (Mrs. Lovett) that his wife had been raped publicly by the judge and then took arsenic as she could not cope with the shame. The judge took away his child and raised her as his warden. Todd wants revenge, Mrs. Lovett has kept his razor blades and so the story unfurls until he gets to cut the judges throat.
Many a men dies on his barber chair providing the filling for Mrs. Lovett’s pies. Her business is booming and she is madly in love with deadly Mr. Todd. The only tiny detail Mrs. L kept from him was the fact that his beloved wife survived the arsenic, but has lost most her mind from it. She’s still wandering the streets as a beggar woman, unrecognizable. In the heart-breaking finale he kills her not knowing who she is and only recognizes her when it’s too late. Mrs. Lovett doesn’t survive this and Sweeney who has been found out being a serial killer by Mrs. Lovett’s shop assistant embraces death readily, when said shop assistant kills him.
There is a very small happy end though: He comes very close to killing his daughter (who is in disguise) too, but she escapes him and runs away with a nice young sailor. Phew.
We have never seen Sweeny Todd so we did not know what to expect apart from “Not While I’m Around”, “Pretty Women”, lots of throat-cutting and Sweeney Todd dying in the end. We knew it would be emotional and not happy-go-lucky, what we did not expect however was the emotional impact this show would have. It’s as compelling as it is brutal. It has hilarious moments and those of utter despair. The score is amazing. Everyone on stage was perfect. The set is fantastic and so clever, the (invisible) orchestra is great. Now we know why this has been Michael’s ambition for many, many years.
First things first: Imelda and Michael received a very enthusiastic standing ovation after both shows on Saturday. The audience loved the show, the evening crowd seemed even more delighted than the matinee one.
Many have said that the director should not have changed the era the show is set in (from Victorian to the 1940s). Yes okay, the lingo might be Dickens, but the story itself is timeless and surely the misanthropical age of war and industry goes very well with the hell in which Sweeney Todd lives.
Lots of metal on the stage, cold and rusty, people in need, many people no one cares for, no one will and misery are not bound to a certain period sadly. WE felt this was rather fitting. And as today directors insist on staging Mozart operas in Ikea furniture I am sure we can cope with a Victorian musical being transported to the 1940s.
We know it has been said countless times before, but Michael is indeed virtually unrecognizable. Straight dark hair, a beard and even his body language is different. This should not surprise anyone. An actor who can play a woman to perfection can play anyone. This man is so angry and so sad that it breaks your heart. In every move you see barely contained fury. In most scenes he does very little indeed, just sit or stand watching in disgust everything around him and he is eminating such dark menace that it’s breathtaking at times.
He scared the hell out of us to be perfectly honest. The contrast between Imelda Staunton’s tiny frame next to him being so tall and muscular is exquisite. This woman is so brave. It seemed like she was living with an aching tiger constantly ready for the kill and the tiniest mistake could trigger an outbreak you would not survive. She manages to calm him, but only just. A doomed couple with death waiting for both of them. This was always tangible.
The one before the last song before the interval is called Epiphany and it does what it says on the tin. For this one song alone he deserves another Olivier. Such brutal and cold or hot anger, such despair, a real demon, a real human, it was literally breathtaking to watch.
Mercifully this is followed by one of the funniest duets we’ve ever seen on a stage. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton are a match made in heaven. Both with perfect comic timing of course. They make up a plan to use Sweeney’s victims as fillings for the pie and come up with different flavours of for example priests, lawyers or generals. It’s wonderfully disgusting and evil. Great fun.
So this piece is not too gloomy, which was surprising. The character of Mrs. Lovett has a dry wit, which has the audience laughing out loud. Naturally everyone embraces a laugh gratefully after all the horror and sadness, but the inevitable end comes and quickly. 2,5 hours fly by in a whirlwind of horror and delight. So we watched Michael die on stage. A very new experience, but as it is his salvation it’s not too bad. The problem is witnessing his heartbreaking when he holds the body of his wife, died by his hand. He’s completely shattered, so vulnerable. And the voice, oh the voice. You don’t even recognize him when he’s speaking. He sounds like a completely different person, but when he is singing…. Such a variety from utmost tenderness to soaring money notes, very dark and rich, very intimate too. Some moments very reminiscent to Alone Together at the Donmar ten years ago. Raw and honest, no kitsch, no frills, just perfection.
This show took a long time coming for him but it’s well worth the wait. He is Sweeney Todd and we cannot wait to be back next week, to be chilled to the bone and touched at the heart. Roll on Monday.Permalink
We are finally back online, but please bear with us. This is the second night in a row where we have been out and about until 2:30am. Review and photos to follow tomorrow (or rather today). Definitely after sleep though.
What we have to say though is WOW! WOW! WOW! He had us terrified. What a transformation. What a performance (both). Incredible. Buy a ticket, if you possibly can. Try not to miss out on this career defining performance.Permalink
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