The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have an extensive programme at the Fringe and their production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods in the Assembly Hall offers the students a chance to showcase their work in a large-scale musical theatre production. Director Michael Howell has double-cast several of the parts too, giving more students a chance to play a variety of roles.
Unlike many shows at the Fringe, this is not performed in front of black tabs; instead, a multi-layered set from Designer Richard Evans shows us a decayed and mouldering building being engulfed by the forest that surrounds and threatens the characters. Musical Directors James Harrison and Robert Wilkinson are out of sight with their 11 piece band but provide excellent musical support.
This popular though sometimes confusing piece of musical theatre has a large cast and it is not possible to mention more than a few of the performers who caught the eye, alongside complimenting the singing by the whole ensemble of the title song and some of the other recurring refrains. Disappointing not to see the usual theatrical cow however; an under-sized toy cow on wheels rather undervalued the usually unforgettable moment when the creature suddenly meets its demise.
The two Princes are nicely played by, apparently, two real brothers: Péter Horváth and András Horváth. Philippa Cassar’s Cinderella comes into her own when she leaves her usual plot-line behind and moves in to look after the Baker’s baby. Motherhood and babies are very important in this show of course, and there were suitably contrasting performances from Emma Ochia as Cinderella’s appalling stepmother and Lydia Davidson, ever despairing of her son Jack. As the central mother, the Baker’s Wife, Lori Flannigan exuded warmth and maternal care opposite a genial portrayal of her husband from Andrew MacNaughton, making her a suitable match for Beatrice Owens’ Witch.
With no weak links in the cast, one further performer must be named: as Red Riding Hood, Abigail Stephenson lit up the stage whenever she appeared and had the audience on her side from her first appearance, so it is just as well she plays of the few characters still alive by the final curtain. The Royal Conservatoire are to be congratulated on this production, and the versatility they are showing in their range of performances at the Fringe this year.