This coming Saturday morning at 9:00 am, Radio 4 Extra will be broadcasting a repeat of the National Theatre production of Sweeney Todd starring Denis Quilley and Julia McKenzie. The show, first broadcast on Radio 2 in July 1994, will be introduced by Sheridan Morley and will last 2 hr 35 min.
Declan Donnellan’s landmark production – named by Sondheim as one of his favourites, particularly thanks to Julia’s wonderful turn as Mrs Lovett – began life at the Cottesloe in June 1993 and starred Alun Armstrong as Sweeney and Quilley as the Judge. Famously dubbed “Teeny Todd” on account of its chamber nature, it nevertheless won Olivier Awards for Best Musical Revival, Best Actor in a Musical (Armstrong) and Best Actress in a Musical (McKenzie), as well as nominations for Best Director and two for Best Supporting Performance in a musical. In December 1993, it transferred to the National’s larger Lyttleton Theatre, at which point Armstrong left the production to be replaced by Quilley (reprising his original London role) and Christopher Benjamin stepped into the Judge’s shoes. (A judge who, for a nice change, indulged in the self-flagellating “Johanna”.)
This production was also notable for its Anthony, played by Adrian Lester in his National debut. Sheila Reid played the Beggar Woman, Adrian Lewis Morgan took on the role of Tobias and Johanna was Carol Starks.
Following the performance, Radio 4 Extra will broadcast “Stephen Sondheim in Conversation” – a 25-minute Q&A with Mark Lawson recorded at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2010.
For a taster of the incredible Julia McKenzie’s Mrs Lovett, here a (very poor quality) recording of the Sweeney segment at the Oliviers, in which Todd is played by understudy Martin Nelson. Below this is a clip of Adrian Lester singing McKenzie’s praises as his biggest influence as a performer.