The Moscow legendary Taganka made a very extravagant move: here put probably the most strange and bloody Broadway musical «Sweeney Todd», familiar to Russian viewers for the same film Burton with johnny Depp in the title role.
Taganka, of course, is known for his biting style. And today the Director Irina Apeksimova, who headed the theater after the departure of Lyubimov and the period of internal strife and scandals, continues this line.
The authors of the musical find justification for the behavior of a serial killer: he’s driven by revenge, a desire to take revenge for an old offense and his broken life. As is often the case, revenge does not bring satisfaction. Sweeney Todd becomes a victim of his own cruelty.
To all of the musical descriptions just right to add the prefix «anti». And he is Stephen Sondheim, releasing for the first time this play on Broadway in 1979, called it a «dark operetta». But there is hardly need some clear definition.
Right on the Moscow production of his Taganka Theatre bought officially. The direction was entrusted to the young Director Alexei Frandetti, a record of which there are roles in musicals and films and even «the gold mask» for directing.
In the evening of the show «Sweeney Todd» hall of the Taganka Theater turns into a real cabaret, where around a small podium tables. Scenes in the classic sense here at all. And that’s what shocked the viewers at the entrance to the hall.
The action of the play takes place on the podium, directly in the hall, between the tables. Installation of the colossal design for the play takes place over two days. What forces the theatre manages to accomplish — we can only guess. But the effect is without a doubt worth it.
Talking about the play, Aleksei frandetti tells about the immersive theater, which he, apparently, quite fond of. That is about a theatre where no fourth wall and the viewer is totally involved in what is happening.
In addition to the converted stage space, inside of which is the viewer made another unusual move. Especially for productions in the theater there was a special menu: beef burgers and alcoholic beverages that can be served in the auditorium. Viewers who dares to consume food in between theatrical murders, you can order everything in advance.
But here’s the paradox. A bloody mess on the stage as it departs on the second plan. This is not important in the play «Sweeney Todd».
This strange story takes the soul. She captivates the viewer with drama and of course music Sondheim — both weird and wonderful, incredibly complex.
The performance is accompanied by a live ensemble, all the actors sing themselves, and live is a tremendous achievement for the company. Taganka has always been «singing», but to master the score of this performance the actors was incredibly difficult. The work done can be called a small artistic feat.
I’ve been to a few of musicals in London’s West End, including seeing a slightly bored cast go through the motions of Miss Saigon as an expensive recreation of the Vietnam War went off behind them. Whilst I love musicals, those glitzy, expensive shows, played night after night in enormous theatres, somehow don’t connect with me the way smaller productions do.
I was therefore intrigued when I found out about a new repertory production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd, at the medium-sized Taganka Theatre, renowned for their version of Master and Margarita.
Sweeney Todd isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste – in fact the president of a drama group I was in once derided it as ‘not music’ – but I’ve long been a fan of this “penny dreadful” come to life. With its visceral score and intricately constructed lyrics, the musical manages to transcend its larger-than-life characters and lurid plot. I find myself drawn into believing this unlikely world where it seems reasonable that a wronged man should take revenge by committing serial murder, whilst his lover, Mrs. Lovett, makes the victims into pies. For a work I know so well, there’s a risk that a new production may not live up to my expectations. However, I am pleased to say that I enjoyed the Alexey Frandetti’s Taganka production very much.
The most obvious way this production stands out is that is performed ‘in the round’, with the audience sat at tables around a central stage, as if in Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. The made use of the multi-level set pieces around the theatre, but also moved amongst the spectators, carrying mirrors and shiny props reflecting us – suggesting that any of us could become Todd’s victims, or perhaps even Todd himself. People like me, in the cheap seats, had a restricted view, watching some of the action through the scaffolding (see the photo) but this didn’t significantly detract from the entertainment.
The actors and singers gave an excellent account of the challenging score and characters: Petr Markin as Todd was brooding and detached, whilst Alexandra Basova as Mrs. Lovett was charming, humorous and devious, and the supporting cast were also excellent. The production hit the tone of the original in a way that some productions (I’m looking at you, Tim Burton), fail to do. The performances felt sincere and fresh, unsurprisingly perhaps, as this was only the third or fourth public performance, and I found myself enthralled and thrilled as the story unfolded. The Russian translation seemed to fit the tone, and managed to emulate the complex rhyming of the original.
As this was not a mega-budget extravaganza, the set was mostly static, and some of the more complex aspects had to be represented more simply – bodies weren’t dispatched through trap-doors and slides: rather, deaths were represented by the character’s coat being hung in an ever-increasing collection around the stage. However, the whole space was brought to life with dynamic lighting effects, highlighting singers’ faces, Todd’s beloved razors and bathing the stage in red as each throat is slit – in fact, I found this approach less distracting than more complex stage machinery would have been, and allowed the more horrific aspects to be implied and not shown (only the most timid should be put off by the 18+ rating they put on the poster).
So, if you prefer your shows to be in a smaller, more intimate setting, I can without hesitation recommend this new production – just don’t be disappointed when a helicopter fails to land on stage.