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Mesmerising Sweeney Todd got me by the throat

Sweeney and Mrs Lovett (image with him sat on chair)

Lots to love about Nick Bagnall’s stripped-back Sweeney Todd in Liverpool, including the cast, acting, and absorbing scenes between Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett and the decision to set it in a time of Brexhaustion. Everything seems fresh minted. 

Bagnall’s wickedly heartfelt production with just four musicians and nine actors is something very special indeed. The marriage of humour and horror is expertly done and never gimmicky. 

Liam Tobin is a grounded Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who “shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again.” His ghoulish demeanour is always striking.  

‘Demons are prowling everywhere, nowadays,’ observes young street orphan Tobias, here played brilliantly by Shiv Rabheru, in ‘Not While I’m Around’. This sequence shines through the prism of social poverty, environmental apocalypse and Brexit Britain. 

It’s a lot more earnest, prescient as well.

You can see why Everyman programmed Sondheim’s musical thriller: it’s a genuinely political piece about austerity, the underdog and the lengths that desperate people will go to for survival. 

The thing that’s really been obsessing me though, is everything about the muted design and brilliant cast who prove truly inventive – interacting with the audience with verve and wrapping their brains around Sondheim’s complex score with a knowing wink.

Michael Vale’s design envelopes the stage with simple effects and minimal props – the staging is in the round and the action takes place on a metallic disc that is often lit from below in tones of blood red and spooky green. 

There is real invention: the cast take turns to rotate the central action manually using their hands or a stick. 

The most surprising thing about this Sweeney Todd, however, is Kacey Ainsworth as nonchalant Mrs Lovett – the criminal mastermind behind all this human pie-making; dressed in a white vest and wearing trainers Ainsworth has the audience in the palm of her hands from the start and this Mrs Lovett is a creation of true genius.

Ainsworth is very good throughout, especially in extended dream sequence ‘By The Sea’, which may be the happiest few minutes of regional theatre that you will see all year. 

In short, this is the food of love: get on a train and play on.

Sweeney Todd is at Everyman, Liverpool, until 18 May.

Everyman announce further casting for major production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd

Cast of Sweeney Todd
Cast of Sweeney Todd

Cast of Sweeney Todd

The Everyman & Playhouse have announced further casting for associate director Nick Bagnall’s anarchic production of the musical Sweeney Todd.

Actors announced to join Liam Tobin who plays Sweeney in Nick Bagnall’s production

  • Production runs from 12 April to 18 May
  • Tickets are available now
  • Two more actors still to be revealed

Former EastEnders star Kacey Ainsworth will play the role of Mrs Lovett. Known for her performance as Little Mo in the soap, Kacey is currently in her fourth series of the ITV detective drama Grantchester. This will be Kacey’s first production at the Everyman.

Also announced is returning Everyman Company 2017 member Dean Nolan. He played the roles of Motel, Mercutio and Sluplianek in the 2017 productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Romeo & Juliet and Conquest of the South Pole. Dean returns to the Everyman to play rival barber Pirelli.

Paul Duckworth will play Judge Turpin, following his performances in Everyman Company 2018 shows Paint Your Wagon and Othello. Paul returns to the Everyman after his recent role in the Royal Court’s production of Scouse Cinderella over Christmas.

Playing The Beadle is Mark Rice-Oxley. The Merseyside actor is back at the Everyman for the first time since performing in the 2014 production of Bright Phoenix 

Keziah Joseph is cast in the role of Johanna Barker. Keziah recently visited the Playhouse in 2017, playing Mowgli in a major UK touring production of The Jungle Book.

The role of Tobias will be played by Shiv Rabheru and North-Wales actor Bryan Parry completes the current group of casting in the role of Anthony.

The new cast members join the already announced Liam Tobin, who plays Sweeney Todd in the production, with one more actor still to be announced.

Nick Bagnall, associate director at Everyman & Playhouse, said: “I’m really excited to be working with this group of actors for Sweeney Todd. It will be great to see old Company members, as well as some new faces, on the Everyman stage.

“It’s a show that packs a real political punch and the music is incredible, but also the story’s so fascinating – it’s gruesome, dangerous, dark and funny.

“Most productions of Sweeney Todd have around 25 to 30 cast members, but our ensemble will include just nine talented actors who can sing for this production. Adding to the fact that we will be performing it in the round, this will be a stripped-back, rough, hard-edged, soulful and a show tailor-made for Everyman audiences.”

Sweeney Todd will be performed at the Everyman from 12 April to 18 May. Tickets are on sale now and available at: https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/sweeney-todd  or by calling Box Office on 0151 709 4776.

Sweeney Todd announced at the Everyman, as the Playhouse welcomes bold and innovative companies for Spring 2019

Sweeney Todd
  •  Nick Bagnall to direct Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd featuring Liam Tobin
  • Co-production with Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre announced
  • Major production of Stones in his Pockets joins Abigail’s PartyThe Girl on the Train
  • Busy children’s programme includes The Cat in the Hat, Around the World in 80 Days and The Worst Witch
  • International company Dead Centre present Chekhov’s First Play

A politically-charged production of the gruesome musical Sweeney Todd (Fri 12 Apr to Sat 18 May) will be brought to life on the Everyman stage in April 2019. Directed by Nick Bagnallthe production explores the social inequalities in a decaying nineteenth century England ruled by the corruption of the upper classes. Liam Tobin (Everyman Company 2017 and 2018) plays the role of Sweeney Todd, with the full cast to be announced in the New Year. This bold production is joined by exciting collaborations with other theatre-makers.

In association with Hull Truck Theatre and Middle Child, the Everyman & Playhouse present the premiere of Us Against Whatever (Wed 20 Mar to Sat 23 Mar). Following a hugely successful run of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything at Edinburgh and the Bush Theatre, Middle Child present an electrifying cabaret featuring live music and karaoke that looks at the most important the most important subject of this age…the people.

Joining the already announced and on-sale major productions of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party (Mon 25 Mar to Sat 30 Mar) and best-selling thriller The Girl on the Train (Mon 11 Mar to Sat 16 Mar)is a new production of the award-winning comedy Stones in His Pockets (Mon 18 Mar to Sat 23 Mar). Directed by Lindsay Posner, two actors take on multiple roles to tell the story of a Hollywood film crew in Ireland. Once there and with many cultural differences, the crew soon find their romanticised view of the Emerald Isle isn’t quite what they imagined.

Comedy Caroline’s Kitchen (Mon 18 Mar to Sat 23 Mar) visits Liverpool ahead of a transfer to New York. Starring Caroline Langrishe (LovejoyJudge John Deed), Aden Gillett (The House of Eliott) and James Sutton (EmmerdaleHollyoaks), the story follows Caroline Mortimer – a TV chef with a seemingly perfect life off screen. But as the cameras go dark, an unexpected guest disrupts a night of celebration, and there’s more than just wine to spill.

A rich family programme sees Kenny Wax Production’s whirlwind Around the World in 80 Days (Wed 17 Apr to Sat 20 Apr) return to the Playhouse after a hugely popular run in Autumn 2017. Joining the programme for young children is Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (Wed 27 Feb to Sat 2 Mar), a circus spectacular by Leicester Curve, who also brought George’s Marvellous Medicine to the Playhouse this year. Featuring original songs, music and magic The Worst Witch (Tue 28 May to Sat 1 Jun) flies in, as the accident prone witch-in-training Mildred Hubble from Jill Murphy’s bestselling children’s series goes on another tale of mayhem.

The Everyman will also host the national Family Arts Conference on Tuesday 12 February for creative professionals to explore to value of arts and culture for families across the UK.

As the theatres continue to present innovative and new ways to tell a story, there is a digital re-telling of literary classic Heart of Darkness (Wed 1 May to Sat 4 May) by Imitating the Dog, and Dead Centre do a huge in-justice to a great playwright, as they bring internationally acclaimed Chekhov’s First Play (Wed 8 May to Sat 11 May) to the Playhouse.

With their own devised work, Young Everyman & Playhouse make their debut on the Playhouse stage to dissect elements of our society and challenge audiences. This year,Crowd (Wed 27 Feb to Sat 2 Mar) looks at the mentality of the group and the control of autocrats.

Eclipse Theatre Company make a welcome return with Princess & The Hustler, following 10-year-old Princess on her discovery of what it really means to be black and beautiful in 1960s Britain. The production is part of Eclipse’s Revolution Mix movement aimed at placing Black narrative at the heart of British Theatre.

Returning to the Playhouse and giving our health service an examination is comedian Mark Thomas with Check Up – Our NHS @ 70 (Fri 12 Apr and Sat 13 Apr)Based on interviews with leading experts in and on the NHS, Mark uses his own brand of humour to look at what’s going right, what’s going wrong and how does it get better for our health service.

The Playhouse welcomes Spymonkey back to follow up A Christmas Carol with pulp-gothic romance Cooped (Tue 4 Jun to Sat 8 Jun)Celebrating 20 years of Spymonkey, the physical comedy pioneers present a ‘Hitchcock on acid’ tale. A spooky mansion, a plucky young heroine and a handsome English aristocrat (with a Spanish soap star and German aristocrat thrown in for good measure) all make for a full-throttle farce to close the Playhouse season.

A busy engagement programme sees work travel out of the theatre and into our communities. Taking place over a two-course meal at Hanover Street’s Angel Restaurant, On the Wire present From Shore to Shore (Tue 19 Mar and Wed 20 Mar) blending English, Mandarin and Cantonese, to tell the powerful stories of migrant Chinese communities living in the UK.

The Brilliant Bard (Fri 1 Mar to Fri 8 Mar) at the Everyman is a landmark Shakespeare festival to celebrate one of the greatest ever playwrights. Open to everyone, the festival will feature masterclasses, workshops and culminate in a symposium. Experts from organisations including the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moore’s University and other industry leaders will discuss why the works of Shakespeare are so enduring and how we can use it to learn more about today,

Gemma Bodinetz, artistic director at Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres, said:

“Each season we aim to bring the very best in home-grown, national and international theatre to Liverpool.  And this season is no exception! Both the Everyman and Playhouse feature companies bringing us classic titles, adventurous adaptations and ground-breaking theatre making. Not to mention the extraordinary work of Young Everyman Playhouse (YEP) performing this season for the first time on the Playhouse stage.

“Our centre-piece in-house production at the Everyman will be Sondheim’s dark masterpiece Sweeney Todd directed by our associate director Nick Bagnall and featuring Liam Tobin (regular Everyman company member) as the eponymous anti-hero. We are also proud to be working in association with Hull Truck and Middle Child to bring Us Against Whatever to the Everyman. This is an adventurous new work featuring a live band and karaoke opportunities for the audience.

“The Company itself is taking a pause. It achieved so much artistically including several awards and its spirit (and indeed many of its regular members) will continue to infuse our work and our ambition to bring adventurous, ensemble-led theatre to Liverpool remains undiminished.”

 General sale for all shows in the Everyman & Playhouse Spring 2018 programme will be available to the public from Monday 3 December. Tickets will be available by calling Box Office on 0151 709 4776 or at: https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on.