Saturday, September 15, 2012
Sweeney Todd's Date of Birth
Well, here's a rare and interesting thing. This is the dramatization of Sweeney Todd The Barber of Fleet Street: or, The String of Pearls by George Dibdin Pit published by John Dicks in Dicks Standard Plays series. There's no publication date on this but the British Library has a bracketed date of 1883 on their catalogue entry, which probably indicates the date of accession to the collection, which won't be too far away from the publication date. The received wisdom is that Todd made his first appearance in print in a Penny Dreadful series called The String of Pearls, that was published in 1846-1847. The Wikipedia for Todd, which seems to have been written by those who know what they're talking about - certainly more than me - confirms this.
However, and here's the rub, if you click on the image above (which is the title page not the cover of the 12 page pamphlet) you'll see, once it's enlarged, that it says clear as day the first production was at the Britannia Theatre in 1842. I assume, because it seems to me that more informed people than me must have looked into this, that this is simply an error on the part of a publisher who is printing something some twenty years or so after its first production. Again, back at Wikipedia, we see that the Britannia Theatre also has a fairly authoritative-sounding entry and that has the first performance of Pitt's play as 1847, the year after the Penny Dreadful's first publication. Nonetheless the 1842 date is there and perhaps this indicates a little more research...
I was impressed, when digging around this subject, by a monologue I found from Community Audio called "Looking for Sweeney Todd" and, if you have a half-hour to spare I can recommend it. If you have a little longer, you can find the whole text of the Penny Dreadful serial version at The Dictionary of Victorian London.