Alex Switzky sits down with Union House Theatre’s director Tom Gutteridge

If Jason Voorhees ever got the urge to swap the hockey mask for a top hat and indulged in soft-shoe and soliloquising between murders, the result would resemble something like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s the closest thing musical theatre has to a slasher flick, aside from Evil Dead: The Musical. Union House Theatre’s upcoming production plans to play up the horrific flair that the show offers.
“Our version of Sweeney Todd is a gleefully blood-spattered and highly theatrical rampage…” says director Tom Gutteridge, who makes no secret about this production’s fondness for the red stuff. When asked about the team’s approach to the on-stage blood-letting that any production of Sweeney Todd is expected to feature, Gutteridge remains coy about the specifics, but gleefully informs me that “we are considering providing plastic ponchos to those in seats close to the stage!”
The approach to the blood reflects this production’s decision to shy away from typical interpretations of the show, opting instead for a staging that’s energetic, exhilarating and perhaps even a little fun. Gutteridge clarifies: “I am interested in exploring the Grand Guignol thrill which audiences get from extravagant and over-the-top blood-letting, rather than wanting to push the psychological levels – where confrontation and uneasiness come from… I think the story is strong enough for the complexity and humanity of the characters to thrive in an atmosphere of burlesque and extremity.”

The traditional two-storey set is a mainstay of most productions of Sweeney Todd, but it’s infamous for being cumbersome and very pricey. There’s also the irony of the supposedly safe set being notorious for injuring cast- many past Todd performers speak about “The Chair” with dread and awe. Gutteridge is aware of set’s reputation and was clear about the production’s distance from the norm.
“We’ve moved a long way away from you might call "the traditional staging". Even in the quest for realistic gore, I didn’t really want to hurt any of our actors! We have come up with some fairly lateral solutions… I’m not sure I should say any more but there may be shadow puppets involved.”
Between the bloody burlesque atmosphere and creative staging, Union House seeks to create a theatrical event out of this Sweeney Todd, one that promises to reach out and grab the audience, literally!
“There’s not a heap of ‘audience participation’ in the normal sense – although there may be some – but the play flows in and around those watching.”


Of course, Gutteridge and I saved the most important topic for last. When asked about the refreshments that would be provided, Gutteridge only smirked and replied “I remember eating a bear steak in Finland and being told that only vegetarian bears taste good. I think it would be a marvellous irony if the same applied to people!”
With highly varied, gleeful gore and delectable (albeit legally questionable) snacks, Union House Theatre’s Sweeney Todd promises to be a bloody good time.

Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Time and dates: 10-11 and 15-18 September at 7:30pm
Matinee Fri 17 September at 11:30am
Location: Union Theatre, ground floor, Union House, Melbourne University
Tickets: Full $25/Conc $20/
Student Union Members $10