Soggy, bland, with a side of lumpy mash and all swimming in tasteless green slime; the worst pie in London? Very possibly. So, that’s the review of the food, what about the show that follows it? This tiny production, devised by Tooting Arts Club caused a minor sensation when performed in the real Harrington’s towards the end of last year and, like many others, I found it impossible to get tickets. Yet somehow, on the very last afternoon of its limited run, a certain Mr S Sondheim managed to overcome that problem and was so smitten with what he saw that, reportedly, he used his influence to secure this transfer to a pop-up replica of the shop in Shaftesbury Avenue, the scene, very aptly, of a gangland murder in 2013. It is exactly five weeks since I saw this same show performed as a semi-staged opera in the huge Coliseum with a full orchestra and international stars. There were more people on stage that night than there are here seated on wooden benches around oblong tables to see a cast of just eight performing to the backing of a three-piece band. The contrast is stark, but the show is the same and my long-held affection for it is an open secret; so let’s not go there again and concentrate only on this unique production. The advance expectation might have been for a novelty site-specific production of average quality, but what director Bill Buckhurst actually delivers is a show that it rich with imaginative insights and brings out many details that I have never appreciated before in the countless times that I have seen it since it first opened on Broadway in 1979. I can add that the performances here are as good as and, in some cases better than, any I have ever seen in these roles. Jeremy Secomb’s Sweeney is brooding and menacing, Siobhan McCarthy’s Mrs Lovett is conniving and resourceful and Nadim Naaman’s Anthony is hopelessly lovestruck as he stands on a table in one corner of the room to serenade the lovely Johanna (Zoe Doano) on a stairway in the opposite corner. Getting up close and personal with the performers is an added bonus, whether it be chatting with Johanna at the table before the show, having Toby (Joseph Taylor) rub hair restorer into my scalp (it’s too late Toby!) or congratulating Judge Turpin (Duncan Smith) in the bar at the interval on the wonderful Pretty Women that he had just duetted with Sweeney. I avoided the particularly smarmy Beadle Bamford (Ian Mowat) and I was not conned into giving cash to the Beggar Woman, played by Kiara Jay, who doubles as Signor Pirelli and gives him a soprano voice which seems very fitting. Benjamin Cox makes Stephen Sondheim’s music sound just as good as in the opera house. What a shame that this production cannot run forever, maybe transferred again to somewhere in Fleet Street. I know I should be docking a star for the awful pie, but it’s a 6-star show anyway, so we can call it quits.
Performance date: 5 May 2015