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posted/updated: 27 Sep 2013 -
Into the woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James LapineThis amateur production is presented by arrangement with JOSEF WEINBERGERLIMITED on behalf of MUSIC THEATRE INTERNATIONAL of New York
society/company: Simply Theatre (directory)
performance date: 19 Sep 2013
venue: Rhoda McGaw theatre, Woking
reviewer/s: Martin Gardner (Independent review)

Intertwines four familiar Grimm fairy stories with the story of the Baker and his wife, who live under a curse which can only be lifted by the acquisition of Cinderella's slipper, Little Red Riding Hood's cape, Jack's cow and a strand of Rapunzel's hair. The action takes place, for the most part, amongst the dark shadows of the woods, with all the characters frantically pursuing their wishes. The prologue reveals the story’s main characters all declaring what they think they need to be happy. ‘I wish’ is the recurrent theme and, as the action unfolds, wishes are granted. However, wishes don’t necessarily bring happiness, and every desire has consequences.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing a production by Simply Theatre before will know that the quality of their productions does not disappoint. The company’s Director, Alison Hough, has a great talent for bringing out the very best from all those involved in each show, no matter what their level of experience, and Into The Woods is no exception. The enthusiasm and vitality of the cast is evident from the outset. Stephen Sondheim may demand a lot from each performer in his musicals, but so does the redoubtable Mrs Hough. The end product is a wonderful affirmation of the commitment of the director, the cast and the musicians.

The music, under the direction of Paul Ooi and Scott Morrison, was spot-on and drove on the frenetic action on stage. It would have been a pleasure to have the band visible, as has been done in previous productions, but the expanse of the action required the full width of the stage. That said, I would have liked to have seen the young narrators, Jevon Napper, Catherine Ashdown and Isobel Webb, given a more prominent position. They seemed a little tucked away in the corner for actors who needed to be on stage for a great deal of the play.

The cast were, without exception, energetic and focused. They succeeded in bringing the vitality that this many-stranded plot requires to sustain it. Among so many excellent performances it is difficult to single out particular favourites. The foppish Princes, played by Jon Bingham and Craig Morgan, were delightfully vain and silly. Emma Hough’s Little Red Riding Hood was a wonderfully temperamental creature. Naomi Bailey and David Oliver, playing Cinderella and Jack, both made their characters delightfully engaging as the innocents who discover that getting your heart’s desire isn't what it’s cracked up to be. Maria Langford brought out the depth of character in the Witch, whose schemes are her own attempt to ‘be a good mother’. The casting of Lee Thomas and Polly King as the Baker and Baker’s Wife was inspired. They worked wonderfully well together, and individually, in both the touching portrayal of parental anxieties, and the farcical comedy of their ridiculous quest.

The humour of the play came over very well from the entire cast, especially when set against the darker themes of parenthood ‘Children can only grow from something you love, to something you lose...’, and the macabre incidents from the original Grimm stories. I particularly enjoyed the sisters, Florinda and Lucinda, played by Nicole Rose and Helen Bracher, cutting off their toes to try and fit into Cinderella’s slipper, and being rewarded for their pains by having their eyes pecked out by birds. Life is grim and happy endings are not guaranteed, but this wonderful musical inspires you to keep wishing.

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