FALMOUTH – When Nancy Bundy went to design the set of the Falmouth Theatre Guild’s production of the musical thriller “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” she decided to make it sepia-toned—the better to highlight the shocking bloody red that the show is known for.
Bundy, who moved to Falmouth as a teenager and attended Falmouth High School, studied art in college. But she only got involved in designing sets for the theatre guild several years ago, with the backdrops to “Peter Pan,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Pippin.”
She finds she really enjoys it. “If only I had known,” the fun of designing sets, she would have studied it in school, she said.
For this production of “Sweeney Todd,” there will be no curtain, so the audience will have plenty of time to admire the painted backdrop, which features a London skyline.
But don’t get caught trying to find a favorite landmark. It is a London scene that Bundy drew from her imagination after looking online at historic photos of London in the 1800s. It contains buildings that are reminiscent of famous structures but any resemblance is mostly coincidental.
It’s a Dickens-like roofline, with spires, towers and chimneys and a dome in the distant that could be Westminster Abbey.
The key in designing the set, Bundy said, was making the themes of the play gain dimension from the set design.
“It really is a class conflict play,” she said of “Sweeney Todd.”
The set features a large bridge and, keeping those classes in mind, Bundy designed two distinct sections, the top half of the bridge is painted as fancy London with intricate iron grillwork. Below the bridge all is plain and ordinary, the dusty, dank reality of the working classes.
Joan Baird of Mashpee, who is directing “Sweeney Todd,” agreed the class conflict is at the heart of the show’s themes.
“Really the show is pretty much dominated by that. Sweeney feels like he got a bum rap,” by being sent away to prison because he was in the lower classes, Baird said.
Bundy said her set serves to highlight the play’s themes visually but also helps to tell the story.
She said she used a palette of Victorian colors. “I think they’re murky. The code of ‘dinge,’” she said. That’s short for dingy.
The large central set piece that has Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie shop on the bottom floor and Sweeney’s barber shop on the top floor doubles as the basement and Mrs. Lovett’s parlor.
Bundy created each side with a red signature image. On the pie side, it is red cherry pie filling, spilling from a picture of a plump pie.
The basement side’s red highlight is a bloody handprint.
The parlor side has wallpaper with bulging calla lilies.
“It’s wonderfully gruesome looking,” Bundy said with a smile.
All those gruesome details set the mood.
Bundy’s set design, Baird said, “is really is going to create the feeling” along with the lighting, which is by lighting professional Kendra Murphy.
Baird said the idea behind the sepia-toned background is not just to highlight the bloody reds in the show but also so as not to distract from the show’s signature element.
“The focus is on the music,” she said.
Falmouth Theatre Guild’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is showing October 25 to November 10 at Highfield Theater in Falmouth. For tickets go to www.falmouththeatreguild.org.
– Laura M. Reckford
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