Wednesday 22 July 2015

Lovett + Todd @ The King's Head Theatre

Lovett + Todd @ The King's Head Theatre

Have you ever watched Sweeney Todd and wondered "where did Mrs Lovett come from?".

No, me neither.

In many ways, ol' Nelly is the more interesting character in Sondheim's show. More than any other she personifies the tension between comedy and horror: a charming, lovable woman with a psychotic mind. Her additional lyrics in "My Friends" suggest her romantic interest in Todd, whilst the menacing counter melody during her rendition of "Nothing's Gonna Harm You" undermines her apparent motherly tendencies. Crucially, these are subtly underplayed in the music, leaving her motives and background for the audience to interpret.

And so we have Lovett + Todd from Another Soup, a theatre company known for their immersive productions. It's a drastic reimagining of the plot from Lovett's point of view that attempts to give depth to the character, but plays fast and loose with the original material and is ultimately unnecessary.

The opening gives Lovett a superhero-esque origin story involving her mother dying, leaving Nelly and her sister Amelia to set up business making meat pies using orphan children - a weak conceit that copies the original, minus the intensity of Sweeney's revenge plot. 

Yet when the sister's are caught, they move to Holborn where the familiar narrative beats of Sweeney Todd unfold. Here, though, Lovett (Louise Torres-Ryan) is a flirtatious femme fatale who seduces a timid, shy and unassuming barber (Daniel Collard) to do her bidding, the plot mostly told by a narrator (Eddie Mann, with an excellent spoken voice). It plays out like a noir thriller, but contains little of the intelligent macabre humour of Sondheim's book, nor the frightening horror tone. Using his show as a platform for an inferior piece simply feels like a cheap marketing ploy.

More so, for a show meant to explore Lovett's motives, there's very little reason given for her psychotic plans. Instead, she is merely a monstrous seductress lacking the charm or wit of Sondheim's creation. 

Musically the two shows simply don't compare. Lovett + Todd consists predominantly of folk songs and dance numbers that might be fun, but fail to advance the narrative in any meaningful way, brimming with awkward rhymes and word setting. And there are some odd stylistic choices: the equivalent "A Little Priest" epiphany moment is sung to a melodic ballad, whilst the whole show ends with a tango between its central pairing. Both are anachronistic to the Victorian setting.

It might seem unfair to compare the two shows - Lovett + Todd is a fun piece of entertainment with some capable performances and amusing moments of audience participation to bash down the fourth wall - but comparison is impossible to avoid. This is not an autonomous piece. Instead it's dependent on Sondheim, but I fear he was present only in the meat pies.


Watch: Lovett + Todd runs at the King's Head Theatre until 1st August.