Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sweeney Todd at Harrington's Pie shop in Tooting

A PIE and mash shop might not be the most obvious place to stage a famous musical but for one young theatre producer it was her first choice.
From Tuesday Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop in Selkirk Road Tooting will be taken over by the Tooting Arts Club who will be using it to put on a production of Sweeney Todd.
For its producer Rachel Edwards it was a long held dream to do Sondheim's famous piece at this particular venue.
"It's an inspired choice," she laughs as we chat about the show. "The Tooting Arts Club (TAC) was established four years ago as a site specific theatre company.
"We are based in Tooting but don't have a permanent home. Instead we are always looking for local buildings, spaces or venues to host our shows taking inspiration from the area.
"I have always got an eye out for potential venues but we want them to have a synergy with the pieces we choose to perform.
"I'm always thinking about potential projects and seeing if there are venues suitable but with this it was the other way around.
"I walk past Harrington's a lot and love it. It's been at the heart of the community here for 108 years and as it's steeped in history and character I thought it would be amazing to do Sweeney Todd in there."
However, she admits it took her a while to summon the courage to go in and ask the owners if she could use their shop for the show.
"I'd had the idea for about two years and for a long time was nervous about asking them because I thought if they said no I would be disappointed but if they said yes it would be a ridiculously ambitious project to take on!" she laughs.
Fortunately they said yes and now she is in the final stages of rehearsing the show which she admits has been "quite a task" to undertake.
"They were really open to the idea which was brilliant," she says. "In fact it didn't take much explaining and they were really up for it although it is a pretty random thing to ask them to do a full scale production in their shop - but they weren't fazed about it at all and instead were very interested right from the beginning in our company and also what we wanted to do.
"So I'm incredibly grateful to them because this was a long held dream of mine and I do think it's the perfect place to tell this amazing story - though now that it's actually happening it's quite scary!"
When they arrive, audiences will first congregate at Anton’s barber shop nearby before being shown through to Harrington’s, where the d├ęcor has not changed much since it was opened in 1908 and which will be transformed into Mrs Lovett’s infamous establishment.
Set in 19th century the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years as a convict from Australia seeking revenge on those who separated him from his wife and child.
He meets Mrs Lovett who owns a failing pie shop. He sets up his barber shop above her shop and prompted by Mrs Lovett his revenge leads to murder with the victims becoming ingredients for her pies.
Despite Harrington's being her perfect venue, staging the show hasn't been without its challenges.
"It's a very small space and the capacity is therefore tiny," says Rachel. "It's actually not much bigger than my kitchen and seats just 32 people so it will be quite an intimate production especially as we have three musicians as well as the eight actors to fit in.
"People will be seated in the booths, on the old fashioned benches with the action taking place on the staircase, behind the counter and in front of the tables.
"We are going to be maximising every inch of space and the audience will be within touching distance of the performers.
"It will be a truly imersive experience experience, thrilling, hugely atmospheric, and I'm really excited about it.
"It's going to be a lot of fun and we've had a huge amount of fun doing it!" she adds cheerfully.
"It's an extraordinary tale that really grabs you, it's brilliantly written with an amazing score and lyrics. It's wonderfully dark but very funny and I think this will be a great way for people to see and experience the show.
"This project sums up exactly what TAC is about and what community theatre is all about - creating inventive work that is born out exciting collaborations with people at the heart of the Tooting community.
"It will be - and already is - a remarkable adventure and I'm really looking forward to it."
And David Sydney Johnson, who has been working at Harrington’s for 46 years and is currently the sole pie maker, says he's also excited to see the finished result.
"Harrington’s has been serving pies to the people of Tooting for more than 100 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever staged a theatre show," he says.
"We’re really looking forward to being a pie shop by day and a theatre venue by night and excited to welcome customers old and new to enjoy the show - and of course our pies!"



Sweeney Todd takes place at Harrington's Pie and Mash shop, 3 Selkirk Road, Tooting from Tuesday, October 21 until November 29. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.tootingartsclub.co.uk/sweeneytickets to buy tickets.

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