x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Sweeney Todd: the musical with a sharp edge

We talk to cast members of Sweeney Todd, set for a run in Dubai.

Sweeney Todd, starts in Dubai tomorrow. Courtesy Ductac / Sarah Martin
Sweeney Todd, starts in Dubai tomorrow. Courtesy Ductac / Sarah Martin

He is known as the “demon barber of Fleet Street” and this month he will appear in Dubai for the first time.

Prepare to be transported into 19th-century England with a tale of betrayal, love and corruption as Ductac’s Spotlight Academy introduces the hit musical thriller Sweeney Todd, featuring actors from the original West End cast alongside UAE-based talent.

Not so sweet revenge

Brought to life in 1979 by the Academy and Tony award-winning American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story), Sweeney Todd is based on a play by the British playwright Christopher Bond, written a few years prior.

Fresh on the heels of its West End run, the production comes to the UAE this week, directed by Joseph Fowler, the general manager of Ductac, Mall of the Emirates.

As the legend goes, the barber Benjamin Barker has been framed for a crime he did not commit by the evil Judge Turpin and is then exiled for 15 years. Barker learns his wife was abused by Turpin and upon his return, following a lengthy incarceration, he seeks a bloody revenge as Sweeney Todd. Sweeney forms a partnership with the widow Mrs Lovett and rents a barber shop above her pie shop. A movie version was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp in the title role in 2007.

The forthcoming production promises plenty of suspense, drama and dark comedy.

“It is the only thriller musical and that in itself is an interesting topic to treat. It’s written by probably the most profound writer for musical comedy,” says Fowler.

The British actor Simeon Truby plays Sweeney Todd while the Dubai-based actor Edward Prophet plays Judge Turpin. They are part of a cast of 56.

Society living

Although the original story takes place in the early 19th century, Fowler has recreated an environment reflective of a time later that same century. “There is something quite Gothic about the period, which lends itself so well to this kind of spooky, thriller story,” he says.

To create the dark and buzzing atmosphere of London life, costume – and the set design by Jamie Todd from The National Theatre in London – plays a key role.

“There are lots of parallel stories, lots of characters whose journeys cross from time to time, and I decided to create an environment where each story can evolve,” says Fowler.

Good versus evil

The story is not all dark. It also traces different love stories between the characters. For Prophet, who is also Ductac’s front-of-house manager, the theme of love and romance is met with an underlying message of revenge – with a few surprises and an unexpected ending. “It’s good to play the villain. He doesn’t care about consequences of his actions because he thinks he has almighty power,” says Prophet.


The costumes

The costume design is spearheaded by Emma Perreaux and Bruno Trasan, from the newly introduced costume department at Ductac, which partnered with the fashion education house Esmod. Mai El Shoush gets a tour

The new costume department at Ductac is filled with period pieces created to meet the most accurate levels of authentic 19th-century London fashion manufacturing, right down to hats and shawls.

The French costume and accessories designer behind the company’s latest production Sweeney Todd is Bruno Trasan, who was also the costume designer for Cats at Ductac last year and has his own range of luxury sports accessories, KiS, worn by the likes of Madonna and David Beckham.

Sweeney Todd is one of Trasan’s favourite musicals and on this production, he has been working with French costume designer Emma Perreaux, who specialises in historical costume. Perreaux has worked on films including 2012‘s Bel Ami starring Robert Pattinson.

“I like the exciting challenge of working with young performers as they are so fresh, vibrant and full of enthusiasm,” says Trasan. “When you make costumes, you are creating an emotion on stage – my job is to transport the audience back in time for the duration of the show. Costumes and accessories are one of the most important elements in period shows. In my opinion, they can make or break a show such as this.”

“It has also been a huge challenge to create these period costumes in Dubai because there aren’t antiques shops where I can find the things I need so I have had to be more creative with what I can source locally,” he says.

However, as interest in theatre continues to rise in the UAE, Trasan believes organisations such as Ductac help prove “you don’t have to go to the West End or Broadway to see a great quality show such as Sweeney Todd”.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street begins tomorrow at Ductac Mall of the Emirates at 8pm and continues until Saturday. Tickets are Dh130 to Dh175. Visit www.ductac.org


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