Rachel Edwards, producer and co-founder of Tooting Arts Club. With a number of successful productions under their belt, Tooting Arts Club is continuing to go from strength to strength. We at Those London Chicks are pleased as punch to speak with Rachel Edwards about Tooting Arts Club and their exciting new production of Sweeney Todd.
You set up Tooting Arts Club with Sue Dunn, how did you meet?
We met when I was at secondary school. She was my drama teacher.
What made you decide to form Tooting Arts Club?
I have lived in Tooting all my life and had always wished that there was more Arts provision in the area. There is no cinema, no theatre, no gallery space. As a child I was always aware we had to travel out of the community to go and see a show or a film. This had always stayed with me. Having spent ten years working as an actress I wanted a new challenge. More creative control, more responsibility, more of a voice essentially. I think that Producing allows for all of those things – and then some! It felt natural to set up a company in my own much-loved community – having felt the lack any arts provision for so long, it seemed like the right thing to do.
How did you fund your shows?
The first two we raised the money through fundraisers. Gig-nights, cinema nights, and then through bar and ticket sales. Our last three shows, been partly funded by the Arts Council, and we also led a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Corporate sponsorship has also played a part Kinleigh, Folkward and Hayward have recently come into the mix.
With 4 productions behind you and a solid rising reputation, you’ve achieved so much in so little time. Where there any challenges, if so, how did you deal with them?
Lots of challenges, funding is always an issue, I am trying to move away from being so dependent on the Arts Council – they could easily say no! – so looking for reliable alternatives is always a challenge. Venues too are an enormous challenge. Without a permanent home – we are always looking for venues that have a happy marriage with the work – Sweeney in a pie-shop is a casing point – but this synergy is not always easy to find. It might mean we have to start looking outside the community – which I am loathe to do. But there may come a point where we have to extend our search.
All of your shows have been different ‘site specific’ spaces around Tooting. Was that the aim or a necessity?
Both. We have no permanent home so it is most definitely a necessity – however it wasn’t my mission to be a producer of site-specific theatre – but sometimes wonderful opportunities arise, like the current one, which seem to make perfect sense. I would ideally, however, like a permanent space and not to have to rely on constantly seeking out venues, it becomes very difficult to programme a season this way. Buildings change hands so quickly, they become occupied, knocked down even. I do love site-specific work when it is at its best so I would hate to lose that element of what we do, a happy mix would be ideal.
Your latest production is Sondheims ‘Sweeney Todd’. Many of us will have seen it or heard about the story. For those who haven’t, tell us a bit about it?
Sweeney Todd is the story of a Barber who come back from exile to seek revenge on the Judge who banished him. He comes home to find that not only has his wife died but the same Judge has taken guardianship of his daughter Johanna. Setting up shop above Mrs Lovett’s pie shop in Fleet Street, Mr Todd goes about ‘practicing’ with his razor on unsuspecting victims, giving Mrs Lovett’s pie sales a much needed lift…
Sweeney Todd is being staged at Harrington’s Pie Shop, perfect! Talk us through the logistics of staging in such an unconventional space?
Our brilliant director Bill Buckhurst has used the space so ingeniously and economically – it really has astounded me how inventive he has been with such a tiny space. The logisitics are undeniably tricky, our back stage area is a kitchen, our playing space is the counter and the tables – it terrified me that it simply wouldn’t work but miraculously it feels like a perfect fit. In the rehearsal room we mocked-up the shop in all its detail so the actors did have a while to get used to it. But hats off to them for embracing the challenge with absolutely no complaints.
For those who wish to see Sweeney Todd tell us what we can expect, from what sounds like a unique Theatre experience?
Well I can guarantee it is like no other production of it you will have ever seen. It is stripped back and very up close, you hear the sounds of the street outside, you can smell the pies – even eat one before the show if you like! The music really lives in that space you will hear parts of the score and libretto that you will have never heard before. And you are only one of 32 – so there is an intimacy that you won’t get in a conventional theatre.
Finally, we know that tickets are in huge demand so you’re releasing them a bit at a time. What would you suggest for people wishing to see the show?
Queue for returns from 6.30. There is often the odd one!
Reviews of Sweeney Todd
“Bill Buckhurst’s brilliantly atmospheric production is like a luscious, overfilled meat pie. It squeezes both the audience and the performers to the limits…….There is some great singing and some terrific performances too.”
‘This is site-specific theatre at its best The venerable Harrington’s, together with a barber’s shop across the street, prove atmospheric and appropriate settings for an evening that’s both chilling and exhilarating…. The quality of the performances and especially the voices is remarkably high.”
“In what might be the boldest move on London’s fringe theatre scene this year…… Tooting Arts Club has pulled off a rare, thrilling and exceptionally entertaining ‘Sweeney’. But, whatever you do, don’t forget to try a pie – they’re to die for.”