Sondheim’s gift with words and music is very distinctive. One of his many talents, and he does it continuously in Into The Woods, is to blend anapaests and dactyls in the lyrics to create short rhyming lines which he then usually sets in 6|8 time resulting in that characteristic lilting, witty conversational style. And it’s all articulated with commendable clarity by this well directed (Francene Harris) cast nicely lifted by an accomplished 13-strong live band led by MD, Peter Bailey.
Into the Woods is an ambitious choice for a non-pro company but GDS meets the challenge head on with a lot of success. The quartet in Act 2 with Scott Highway as Baker and Lewyss Banfield as Jack – on Central Theatre’s stage right balcony – and Carley Caller as Cinderalla and Claire Scholes as Little Red Riding Hood far away at stage left is utterly beautiful. It’s a terrific piece of writing and these four sing it with magnificent tenderness and musicality.
The thrust of the show and James Lapine’s ingenious book, of course, is to spend the first half weaving traditional fairy stories together (Chas Alder is an engaging narrator in this production) and the second half unpicking the reality of “happily ever after”. Interestingly too it often goes back to the original versions with bits being chopped off feet, eyes being pecked out and quite nice characters being brutally felled rather than the saccharine retellings most people are used to these days.
Rachel Anne Crane-Herbert, a skilled actor and accomplished singer is good value (as usual) as Jack’s mother. I really liked Tonia Plowman’s pro-standard work as the Baker’s wife too, She is a compelling actor and sings exquisitely especially in the upper reaches of her register. Another well developed performance is Carly Caller as a rueful but quite feisty Cinderella.
And Jake Pearse is terrific fun as Cinderella’s hilariously lanky, chocolate-voiced, wild-haired prince. He and Adam Waters, as Rapunzel’s hammed up, wet, Etonian Prince have some lively scenes together.
All in all, then, it’s a reliably strong cast presenting a show which really glitters with quality, partly because of the way it’s written but not least, also because GDS has tackled it so ably. It’s a pity then that it isn’t attracting better audiences. I suppose a show which isn’t an obvious popular choice is a hard sell in Chatham. The night I was there it was poorly attended by a thin stalls-only audience although I understand that other performances have done better.
Get to Chatham before Saturday, 13 October if you can. This Into The Woods is well worth catching.