Vivo D’Arte, Frogmore Paper Mill, Apsley
Vivo D’Arte never cease to amaze me with their brilliant productions, but this immersive, promenade production of Sweeney Todd, at Frogmore Paper Mill in Apsley, has really raised the bar. The story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who slits the throats of his customers to fill the pies sold in Mrs Lovett’s shop was brought to life in an incredibly atmospheric setting. Admittedly, it was rather cold, but it all added to the ambience, and we did get excellent hot pies to warm our hands in the interval – I think mine was “poet”!
I love Sondheim’s Sweeney, and everyone tries to bring it to life in their own special way. But for Vivo D’Arte to have taken over Frogmore Paper Mill and built sets into that crumbling, dusty, industrial warehouse, slotted the band into a gap in an old wall and piped music though to all the performance areas, built balconies and rails, hung TV screens so the actors could see the vibrant MD Erika Gundesen doing her stuff, and created a world for the audience to be lead through and amazed – I really have to applaud everyone involved. Jeff Stewart pulled off a remarkable feat for his directorial debut. Absolutely incredible!
It was so exciting to feel you were in the middle of the action of a Sweeney street scene, nudged and chatted to by hawkers, prostitutes and members of the
asylum. As the show opened a coffin was laid at my feet and Stuart Pendred rose up before me – a powerful, formidable, tortured Sweeney, his pain was palpable throughout as he led us on his horrific journey. Lucy Peacock, his hilarious Mrs Lovett had the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she started whacking her rolling pin down on the pastry, and we utterly believed how much she loved Sweeney, in her strange twisted way. In complete contrast Anna Sideris gave us a pure and tender Johanna, I was completely captivated by this young actress and her lovelorn Anthony, flawlessly played by James Penniston, they swept me away with their youthful passion and glorious voices.
Other standout performances were Alfie Glasser, who tore my heart out as little Toby, Christine Byrne as the fierce and agonising Beggar Woman, Andrew McGowan as the stupendous Pirelli, Luca Hlaing as the Beadle, Stephen Davis as Judge Turpin, Freddie Clarke as Jonas Fogg and little Melissa Stewart’s exceptional performance as the young Johanna.
We were led around by members of the fabulous ensemble, a giddy audience revelling in this dark and passionate story. Vivo D’Arte pulled off a truly innovative and thrilling production of Sweeney Todd and everyone who saw it will be talking about it for years to come.
Teresa Howard, Librettist and board member, Mercury Musical Developments
Terrific. Even without taking into account your limited budget and rehearsal time. If the purpose of theatre is to give an audience a memorable, enjoyable, moving experience (which I believe it is), rather than to impress critics, then last night (April 8 at Frogmore Papermill, Apsley) scored 10/10.
The choice of venue was inspired and the use of the chorus excellent.
I had the opportunity to leave at the interval – my wife did as she was feeling unwell – and I was also feeling rather cold. But the show was so compelling that I had to stay. True sign of quality of performance.
Let’s start with the ensemble, often only added as an afterthought. You guys ‘made’ the show. You created the atmosphere and made us feel uncomfortable – especially in the asylum scene. I can’t remember being that unnerved before. The gentle, yet firm, hands on shoulders, and the eye contact. I will never forget the eye contact. I will probably have nightmares. From the opening to the closing you were the very fabric of a Victorian street scene.
Stuart Pendred – with Bryn’s 2015 Todd still ringing in my ears (I am a great fan of Terfel) I was somewhat anxious about seeing a relatively unknown singer (apologies) in the role. I spent a while Googling you before booking the tickets and almost did not come at all as I could not find very much. I need not have worried. You were superb. Every word clearly heard. Both acting and singing were impressive – lovely lower notes. Your duets with Lucy Peacock were a joy. Watch out Bryn, there’s a new kid on the block.
Lucy Peacock – I cannot decide which of the two main parts is most important to the show, but perhaps it is Mrs Lovett. If that part is not supremely acted then I suspect the show will fail. Imelda Staunton and Emma Thompson have set a high standard and so expectations of the part are always high. This did not seem to worry you at all. Your acting and singing were of the highest order. Comedic timing was spot on and such a great voice. Loved ‘By the sea”. You have a great career ahead of you and I look forward to following your progress.
Everyone else – much as I would like to write a bit about everyone, I fear this will take me until tomorrow so let me just mention Alfie Glasser. ‘Not while I’m around’ is a favourite of mine. Slight worry then that it would be good. You aced it. Even those tricky high notes. Thank you.
But there were no weak links. Great for us, the audience, and quite unusual in any show at any level.
Normally I would spend time listening carefully to the band so that I could make an informed comment afterwards. I did not. Why? Well, firstly the drama was so compelling that I didn’t have the brain capacity to do anything else. But also, I suspect, the music was played so well that there was nothing that caused me to think ‘oops, problem’ during the entire show. You did a great job.
Apologies I have no time to mention all the other areas, and I know that is unfair. Just a quick word about costumes which were right on the money. Well done there. Apologies for not talking about scenery, lighting, sound, … I know your contributions are just as important.
Philip Barnett, Watford Observer Review