Mrs. Lovett
Mrs. Lovett as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter
Portrayed byRaffaella Ottiano (1924 Broadway)
Iris Darbyshire (1928 film)
Stella Rho (1936 film)
Jane Mallett (1947 CBC Radio)
Heather Canning (1970 TV episode)
Angela Lansbury (1979 Broadway)
Sheila Hancock (1980 West End)
Dorothy Loudon (1980 Broadway)
Gillian Hanna (1985 West End)
Beth Fowler (1989 Off-Broadway)
Julia McKenzie (1993 West End, 1994 BBC Radio)
Joanna Lumley (1998 TV movie)
Patti LuPone (2000 concert, 2005 Broadway)
Christine Baranski (2002 Kennedy Center)
Elaine Paige (2004 NYC Opera)
Essie Davis (2006 TV movie)
Helena Bonham Carter (2007 film)
Judy Kaye (2007 Canada/U.S. tour)
Imelda Staunton (2012 West End)
Emma Thompson (2014 concert)
Siobhán McCarthy (2014 West End, 2017 Off-Broadway)
Carolee Carmello (2017 Off-Broadway)
Sally Ann Triplett (2017 Off-Broadway)
Gina Riley (2019 Australia)
Lea Salonga (2019 Manila, 2019 Singapore)
In-universe information
GenderFemale
OccupationBaker
SpouseAlbert Lovett (deceased)

Mrs. Lovett is a fictional character appearing in many adaptations of the story Sweeney Todd. Her Christian name is most commonly referred to as Nellie, although she has also been referred to as Amelia, Margery, Maggie, Sarah, Shirley, Wilhelmina and Claudetta.[1] A baker from London, Mrs. Lovett is an accomplice and business partner of Sweeney Todd, a barber and serial killer from Fleet Street. She makes meat pies from Todd’s victims.

First appearing in the Victorian penny dreadful serial The String of Pearls, it is debated if she was based on an actual person or not.[2] The character also appears in modern media related to Sweeney Todd including the Stephen Sondheim musical and its 2007 film adaptation.

Character overview

In every version of the story in which she appears, Mrs. Lovett is the business partner and accomplice of barber/serial killer Sweeney Todd; in some versions, she is also his lover. She makes and sells meat pies made from Todd's victims.

While in most versions of the Sweeney Todd story Mrs. Lovett's past history is not stated, usually she is depicted as a childless widow, although in some depictions (but very rarely) Mr. Albert Lovett is shown. In Christopher Bond's 1973 play Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical adaptation, before she goes into business with Todd she is living in poverty in a filthy, vermin-infested flat, and laments her pies are the worst ones in London. While she feels no remorse about having people killed and serving them as pies, she is sometimes shown to have a softer side to those in need; for example, in the Bond play and Sondheim musical, she informally adopts the young orphan Tobias Ragg as her own and considers taking in Todd's daughter Johanna as well. In the original "penny dreadful" serial and George Dibdin Pitt's 1847 stage play The String of Pearls; or, The Fiend of Fleet Street, this softer side does not extend to her bakehouse assistants, whom she imprisons in the bakehouse and often slaves to death.

Various interpretations

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Although Mrs. Lovett's character and role in the story are similar in each version, certain details vary according to the story's interpretation. In some versions, for example, Mrs. Lovett commits suicide when their crimes are discovered, while in others, Todd kills her himself or she is arrested and escapes execution by turning King's Evidence against Todd. Her physical appearance varies from a slim and alluring beauty, to a plump, homely lunatic. Her age is also differing in many adaptations; though it is never specifically stated in any versions, there are some (most noticeably in Sondheim's musical) where she is older than Todd, often by a difference of over fifteen years and others where she is around his age. Whether their relationship is platonic, romantic or merely sexual also varies according to interpretation.[3][4]

Role in the musical

In Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Tim Burton's 2007 film adaptation, Todd pays a visit to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop below his old home after 15 years in exile, seeking information about his lost family. Mrs. Lovett recognizes him as her former tenant, Benjamin Barker, with whom she was (and is) secretly in love. She informs him that his wife, Lucy, was raped by Judge Turpin, who had exiled Todd on a false charge, and informs Todd that Lucy was so distraught that she poisoned herself with arsenic. Seeking vengeance, Todd reopens his shaving parlour above the shop, and slits the throats of his customers. Mrs. Lovett initiates a plan for Todd to send the corpses of his victims down a chute that leads to her bakehouse. She then uses the flesh to bake meat pies, which make her business very successful.

She and Todd take in an orphan, Tobias Ragg, to whom she becomes like a mother. She also dreams of marrying Todd, who is completely uninterested in her.

In the story's climactic "Final Sequence", Todd murders Beadle Bamford, Turpin and a beggar woman, and discovers that the latter is actually Lucy. Todd confronts Mrs. Lovett, who confesses that Lucy survived drinking the poison but was driven insane, reduced to begging. Todd then demands why Mrs. Lovett lied to him, to which Mrs. Lovett then confesses her love for him, and promises she would be a better wife than Lucy ever was. Todd pretends to forgive her, but later throws her into the furnace, burning her alive as retribution for her lies. However, killing Lovett proves to be Todd's fatal mistake; Tobias, who loved her like a mother, emerges from hiding and kills Todd by slitting his throat with his own razor.

Sondheim based his characterization of Mrs. Lovett in large part upon the Utilitarian ideas criticized by Charles Dickens in his novel Hard Times, specifically in relation to the character of Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, who embodies the Utilitarian ideas and who takes pride in frequently referring to himself as "eminently practical," which Dickens emphasizes to be the character's primary character trait on numerous occasions. This is evidenced by the following: first, on two occasions in Sondheim's musical, Sweeney refers to Mrs. Lovett as "eminently practical" when praising her cold-blooded resourcefulness in relation to her meat pie recipes (which are logically Utilitarian in nature); and second, Mrs. Lovett concludes her opening number by stating twice that "Times is hard," a thinly veiled reference to the title of the Dickens novel.

Portrayals

In film and stage adaptations of the Sweeney Todd story, Lovett is considered the female lead.

Songs

In the musical Mrs. Lovett sings many numbers by herself and with other characters. The tracks were all composed by Stephen Sondheim. These include:

(* Edited for 2007 film)
(** Cut from 2007 film)

References

  1. ^ Mack, Robert L. (2007). The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London, England: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 307. ISBN 978-0826497918.
  2. ^ "Sweeney Todd: Fresh Meat Pies". Crimelibrary.com. Archived from the original on 10 April 2008. Retrieved 20 February 2008.
  3. ^ "Sweeney Todd: Margery Cheats the Hangman". Crimelibrary.com. Archived from the original on 10 April 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2008.
  4. ^ "Sweeney Todd: The Trial of Sweeney Todd — The Defense". Crimelibrary.com. Archived from the original on 10 April 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2008.
  5. ^ "Sweeney Todd – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB".
  6. ^ Henry, Alan (December 7, 2018). "Lea Salonga To Star In SWEENEY TODD in Manila". BroadwayWorld.com.
  7. ^ "'Sweeney Todd' with Lea Salonga, Jett Pangan to be staged in Singapore". ABS-CBN News. June 18, 2019.