What to expect from Another Soup Productions’ ‘Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls’

SweeneyToddDave Spencer, Artistic Director of Another Soup Productions, takes us through the process of his new dramatic venture ‘Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls’ from mind to market. 

Sweeney Todd and The String of Pearls is a student-written production. Who wrote the script and what has its journey been from the initial idea to this innovative production?

I wrote the script over the course of the summer holidays. I had contacted Seif El-Rashidi regarding his thoughts for an interesting space to perform theatre in Durham, since that has become one of the defining qualities of Another Soup Productions, and he put me in touch with Colin Wilkes, the Managing Director of Durham Markets.

I met him for a brief chat and whilst being shown around the market, the idea for a new adaptation of the classic Sweeney Todd tale presented itself to me. I knew that the original story was out of copyright and, having worked with Jo Turner (our composer and musical director) on two of our shows in the past, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try and create a new Sweeney musical to rival Sondheim’s.

How difficult has it been to envisage and then to organise a play in a setting as versatile, but also as different, as the Indoor Market?

Since the idea for the play itself sprung from the fact that Colin was so helpful and wanted us to use the market in its entirety, envisaging the play was surprisingly easy. It was the organisation in the later stages that proved difficult.

Due to the market’s opening hours, we were only able to rehearse in the venue twice before our first performance to actual audience members. Obviously, we spent about ten hours in the venue on these days, but even so it was incredibly tiring, whilst also being enthralling.

The market offers a truly site-specific quality to this production – one rarely (if ever) seen in Durham – and I am truly glad that we struggled through the hardships and logistical nightmares that we came across on those two in-situ rehearsal days.

How much of a role do music and movement play in the rather alternative staging of this production?

Music was a key part of the process from the very beginning. I had never written a musical before and to be able to write a bunch of lyrics and send them off to Jo Turner, who would almost immediately send me a sample piece of music back was brilliant. It really helped with writing the play.

We also edited the play considerably just after the auditions and recalls to include more songs and Jo was, as ever, so helpful with making my lyrics and vision a reality.

What are the main challenges of putting on a promenade theatre production?

Some audiences are very free-spirited and will try and head off or get distracted by other things going on when, in actual fact, they are supposed to be following their guide. We hope that we have given audiences the impression that there is no ‘play’ being performed as such, but that they are merely stumbling upon different events and happenings around the twisting alleyways of Fleet Street, Holborn.

Also, one of the main issues with working in such a large venue is the proclivity of cast members to wander off and then have to send a search party to find them, which in turn doesn’t return for several minutes.

As I said previously, organisation was a big concern in this production, which is why I am utterly relieved that I enlisted the help of two of the most efficient and delightful producers I have ever worked with, Dave Collins and Rosie Spence.

The show has a very big cast. Has this been more of an advantage or a disadvantage than you anticipated?

The original show had 10 people involved in it plus a very small band. We held auditions for these and found that the extent of talent was phenomenal. We therefore decided to incorporate an active chorus in the piece as well as increasing the band size. It has been, on the whole, a boon to have such a large cast. They are all lovely and wonderfully talented.

Of course, at times I have felt like the patriarch in a rather unwieldy and grotesque family, but apart from the minor niggles of organisation, it has been a blessing to have so many people to bring the Indoor Market to life.

This is your final chance to plug the show. Go for it…

Sweeney Todd & the String of Pearls is, almost without a doubt, the most innovative piece of theatre you will see in Durham this year and possibly in your entire university career. A cast and band of almost 30 souls wander the market which, when coupled with an audience, create a bustling but ever so eerie atmosphere in a darkened, shadowy market.

The music is all original and incredibly catchy, with some inspired orchestrations by Jo Turner, who worked on Virginia Woolf’s The Waves and The Jungle Book. The cast have been complaining about the fact the lyrics will be in their heads for months. You may, if you’re lucky, even get a free pie and some ale…

Come on down to Fleet Street and see Mr Todd in all his finery – you’re sure to Lovett!

Photograph: Dave Collins

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