It is with honour that I have directed Sondheim’s masterpiece in the year of his passing. Working through this absolute opus, has, daily, reminded me and the company of his majesty. We will never, ever, see his like again. Every incidental moment in the score is thought through with the master-craftsmanship of a director, an actor, a dramaturg, a maestro and a true chimera of theatre. It is the first piece of Sondheim that I’ve directed and it is absolutely life-changing – Greek Tragedy, Opera, Shakespeare and Musical Theatre, baked into a gorgeous, disgusting and delicious pie.
With the work’s majesty came a side dish of problematic terminology. I’d like to thank the company for challenging the piece’s comparison of ‘paleness’ or ‘whiteness’ with beauty and as a company, I’d also like to state that though we have kept the flippant misuse of the word ‘slave’ in one instance, we recognise that although this sadly may be what we expect from the mouth of a sinister bigot like the Judge, we will do better than to misuse too problematic a term in our own parlance, practice and creation.
I’d like our audience to know that we, the company, recognise how disgustingly mental health is referred to in this Victorian Penny Dreadful. The beliefs and opinions of the principal characters in the piece regarding the minds of those who are vulnerable, are not those of our own and from the future, we invite you to look back at them, as we have, with shame and disgust. Though mental health is still deeply mistreated in our world, I am glad that it is not treated with the appalling contempt of the Asylum depicted in the work.
I would like to celebrate and deeply acknowledge the work of the designers on this piece, particularly the work of Rachael Orr, Jack McLean and Laura Martin – who have given birth to the most complex, decadent and disarming London I could have imagined – translating my vision into their own phenomenal creativity and craft. As far as I’m concerned, any of the work we have created as an ensemble, is a gift back to you three – who have, from start to finish, pioneered for our collective vision to be realised.
Thanks also to my phenomenal core team in the rehearsal room, my brilliant stage management squad, directorate and my astonishing maestra Sarah De Tute who has demonstrated extraordinary skill, generosity and moreover, a powerful affinity with Sondheim’s score. So rare to find someone with such a similar musical heart. Thank you Sarah.
And finally, to my extremely dedicated and hard working cast who have battled through this work, against the clock, like a united force. I am so utterly proud of your diligence, generosity, avid hunger to learn and more importantly than all the rest, your professional development. You are graduating into a challenging world and without exception, your development across the board has impressed and inspired me. The final year of training can so often divide a cohort and, I hope, given the challenges of a global pandemic and the thousand natural shocks, that this project knits you together like the true ensemble you are. My gratitude and my light.
Sit back. But don’t relax, because isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?
Alexandra Spencer-Jones – Director and Choreographer