Posh songs and mood lighting

Last night I sat in a beautiful room and listened to a fabulously sung tale about serial killers.

It was a brilliant night out and Sweeney Todd: demon barber of Fleet Street was every bit as awesome as I’d hoped it would be. My companion, The Opera Newbie, was also very impressed, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We laughed in all the right places, jumped (embarrassingly) at unexpected loud noises, and clapped enthusiastically whenever terrible things happened (he’s in the chair! he’s just had his throat cut! he’s sliding from the chair through a trapdoor and into the basement!)

The Sweeney Todd set
Not the chair! Sweeney Todd set (image supplied)

I was a bit nervous that the live opera performance wouldn’t measure up against the recent Tim Burton movie, which was visually stunning and starred the always-brilliant Helena B-C, as well as badly-behaved Johnny Depp.

Sometimes when you’re watching a live show and there’s lots of singing, it can be hard for people who don’t know the story (or the songs), but Opera Newbie reported that he pretty much followed the lot. And the set was gorgeous. Deceptively simple, but with lots of different clever bits that moved in mysterious ways. The lighting was almost a star in its own right, too, with atmospheric fog and really effective spotlights making things look darn scary quite often.

My favourite character in any of the different versions I’ve seen is always Mrs Lovett, and last night was no exception – Antoinette Halloran’s voice, acting, costume were all fabulous, and I totally have a fangirl crush on her. I’m also finding myself humming bits of her songs, and vaguely thinking that this weekend I might try making some pies.

Joel Granger and Antoniette Halloran in Sweeney Todd
Joel Granger and Antoniette Halloran in Sweeney Todd (image supplied)

If you’re thinking about going along, maybe don’t take the kids – it’s sweary, and bloody, and has some naughty bits too. But if you have the opportunity to grab some last-minute tickets for the show for yourself and your grown-up friends you absolutely should do that (it’s on til Saturday, and there’s even a matinee performance, so there’s really no excuse!)

A meaty night out at the opera

I have a friend who’s never been to the opera. Never been to a musical. Actually, possibly never even been to a live theatre performance before.

How exciting for him, then, that his very first outing to all of the above will be to Sweeney Todd: the demon barber of Fleet Street.

He looked a little concerned when I told him where we were going (the oh-so-beautiful Isaac Theatre Royal), and for what purpose.

Things got worse when I tried to give a brief plot outline. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with a line about hairdressers.

How though, does one cover all the important bits, without spoiling the plot twists? Do I talk about wives and daughters, justice and revenge, haircuts and close shaves, meat pies and unrequited love?

Cover of Sweeney Todd: The demon barber of Fleet StreetDo I mention that Mr Todd first made his appearance over 150 years ago, in the pages of a “penny-dreadful” publication? That there have been more than a dozen different stage and screen adaptations, including the most well-known current movie version starring the now infamous Johnny? Or that Christchurch is the third of the major centres to have the privilege of showing us what a close shave really means?

Perhaps I should just send him to the library to read/watch/discover all our Mr Todd-related resources?

Or perhaps I should tell him nothing. Let him enter the theatre unsuspecting and unprepared in any way for the delicious horrors that are to come …

Perhaps that last one, yes.

Beyond The Veil: Historical Ghost Stories – WORD Christchurch

Book cover of The Thirteenth TaleWas anyone else frustrated that the ghost was always really just the Janitor in Scooby-Doo? Diane Setterfield, author of gothic suspense books The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black was. Today in her own writing she feels that she is doing injustice to real human experience if she explains all the spooky stuff away in the end.

Diane, Rosetta Allan, author of New Zealand Victorian ghost story Purgatory and Coral Atkinson, author of Lyttelton interwar spiritualism story Passing Through joined Liam McIlvanney to discuss all things historically ghostly as part of WORD Christchurch.

Real-life events inspired Rosetta and Coral to tackle historical subjects. Coral grew up surrounded by her father’s collection of historic swords and today feels that things from the past help her to write about it. She gathers photos, archival sources and objects from the era she is writing  to illuminate scenes and eras, sometimes basing scenes from her novels on old photographs. Coral is ever trying to avoid the ‘rock in the river’ when it comes to using all this historical detail though. All the authors agreed that historical accuracy shouldn’t take readers out of the story, but needs to be seamlessly worked in.

Book cover of PurgatoryRosetta’s novel, Purgatory, was based on a piece of family history she first heard from her father, notorious for his tall-tales. When she found out the story was true, Rosetta was inspired to start work on Purgatory. During a visit to the site of the murders, Rosetta felt he presence of John and so he became the ‘hero’ of the story.

Condensing significant historical events into personal stories was a challenge that faced all the authors. Diane finds it helpful to come at big events “slightly slant-ways” and Rosetta always wants to “find the personal story” in larger things. Coral is mindful that her characters “represent hundreds of thousands of other people” and wanted to show that things “go on and on” with disasters and tragedies, they are not just forgotten once the era has ended.Book cover of Passing Through

The authors finished by citing some influential writers:

Beyond the veil: Historical ghost stories
Coral Atkinson, Rosetta Allen, and Diane Setterfield.

First stone church in Canterbury – Image of the week

Wesleyan Methodist Church, Durham Street, Christchurch. Circa 1921.

Wesleyan Methodist Church, Durham Street, Christchurch

Durham Street church is a Victorian Gothic building which was opened on Christmas Day 1864, the first stone church built on the Canterbury Plains. The church was built from local stone, in a mixture of Halswell and Port Hills basalt. The lighter facings are Charteris Bay sandstone.

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