Into the Woods
Paul Johnson | 20 Apr 2013 06:36am
An Enchanting Evening – ‘Into The Woods’
‘Into the Woods’, is an award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. It is a wonderful musical foray into the world of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which most of us know well from childhood. As a writer of pantomimes based on fairytales, this is my genre. Sondheim expertly weaves together several fairy stories, so that Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and others become entangled in the same story. The score is catchy, and interspersed with Sondheim’s frequent use of repetition.
As a great fan of Sondheim’s work I had been looking forward to seeing this production by the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. The first time I saw ‘Into The Woods’ was at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre in London in 2010. I had been overawed by the whole experience of seeing well-known fairytale characters come to life in an adventure playground type set, with ladders and elevated walkways erected around real trees. I wasn’t quite sure how The Barn Theatre would be able to recreate that magical experience, but manage it they did. I was utterly bewitched from start to finish. Let us first go into the woods! The set was inspired and worked well on so many levels. The woodland backcloth set the scene and, replacing tabs there were two trees, one left and one right. Set further forward the stage right tree had a large bough which was used by many of the characters to great effect. We first notice this elevated position when one of the sprites stands on the branch above Cinderella and, marionette-fashion, the many birds sing their sweet song to Cinderella. The witch made great use of this level for some of her entrances, as did Jack and the baker in Act two. A section of the trunk of this tree opened to reveal a well-lit fairy Godmother (Cinderella’s mother) – the lighting giving a mystical effect and adding to the enchanted feel of this production. The other tree had an opening higher up, a ‘tower’ from which Rapunzel burst forth with her haunting song before lowering her golden tresses. The witch moved to the side of the trunk and disappeared – giving the effect of climbing the ‘tower’. The front of the set was set out to tell Cinderella’s story down stage Right, The Baker’s story centre stage and Jack’s story down stage left. Once again an inspired and very well thought out piece of set as the ‘homes’ of these characters were closed to reveal the fairy tale books of Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. Upright in their respective positions the books looked like tombstones when we ventured into the woods. The Baker’s ‘home’ was closed but left as a tombstone/raised dais upon which quite a lot of action was done – including the seduction of the Baker’s wife by Prince Charming.
Into the characterisation! to the fantastic cast who moved into the set and out of the set throughout the show. The show depends on the cast ensuring that the elements of drama, pathos and humour within the storyline are strongly communicated in the wide variety of musical numbers and dialogue, and with strong performances from the whole cast this was certainly accomplished. The Baker and his wife, played respectively by Dan Breeze and Lynsey Wallace, are the centrepiece of the plot and were totally convincing as a couple who long for a child. There were some very touching moments as they venture into the woods in an attempt to reverse a curse placed on their families some years before. I enjoyed their duet, It Takes Two, in Act one.
Georgina Nicholas was outstanding as Little Red Riding Hood. She conveyed the many characteristics perfectly – moving from lively and petulant in most of act one, to show us the more endearing qualities of the character in act two. Her brief encounter with the lecherous wolf (Matt Greenbank), was great fun as was her foot-stamping, screaming tantrum. There were lovely vocals and a convincing performance by George Curry as Cinderella. Matt Greenbank played Cinderella’s Prince with just the right amount of smooth charm and pomposity. Rapunzel’s prince was played by Will Smith, another fine performance. I loved the Princes’ Exits – a wonderfully funny, well-directed running gag which had Prince Charming, one arm at right angle in front and one behind, leap off the stage at every exit. Rapunzel’s Prince was more Shakesperian in his exits with one arm aloft. A lovely touch. Their duet, Agony, was well delivered. Michael Curry played Jack with the right amount of naivety and was well-matched by Red Riding Hood in their verbal sparring. Alison Hudson gave a solid performance as Jack’s mother. Just like a pantomime we need a villain of the peace and this was in the form of the witch, who is calling the shots from the outset as she sends the baker and his wife on their quest to collect a white cow, a golden slipper, a red cape, and a strand of corn-yellow hair to remove the spell. Once collected she is then transformed into a more youthful vamp. As always Maz Greenbank was superb vocally and in her acting ability. The witch also imprisons her daughter, Rapunzel, played by Beth Wischhusen. They both gave a wonderful vocal rendition of in the songs Our Little World and Stay With Me.
Cinderella’s family made for an amusing group – with Rachel Wallace as the stepmother, Kim Southey and Emily Curry as Florinda and Lucinda and Nick Jackson as Cinderella’s uncaring father. Cinderella’s mother was played by Stephanie Dunn. Keith Thompson played the mysterious man well, his costume reminiscent of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who. Maureen Davies, once cut out of the wolf’s belly, ran into and out of the action in red pantaloons and chemise. She also doubled as the voice of the unseen giant’s wife. Eric Chorley was a rather haughty steward to Prince charming. In act two the princes, once freed from their marriages seek out the company of Sleeping beauty, Fulya Burke, and Snow white, Naomi Meaden. Along with Emma Deacon these three were sprites and supported the action, whether as horses, marionettes or moving set and props. Last, but certainly not least was the narrator, Bob Sulzbach who did a splendid job of telling the story. He expertly drew the audience in before being part of the story and being killed by the giant’s wife.
Sondheim is a brilliant composer and lyricist and the capable vocals of the cast made it all the more pleasurable an evening. Musically this was outstanding and under the musical direction of Rowan Baker, the six-piece orchestra did justice to the score. Choreographer Joyce Smith ensured that dancing was of a high standard. Well done to the wardrobe team – the costumes looked good.
- : admin
- : 18/04/2013