Into the Woods
Chris Abbott | 07 Feb 2015 11:26am
It is a brave society that plans a production of Into the Woods just as the major film comes out, but Artform showed themselves more than equal to the challenge, offering a production that included all the horror and authentic cruelty at the heart of this piece.
Performing in a small space in the Studio at the Broadway Theatre, Catford, the large cast were totally confident in their performances and in their constant travels up, down and through the inventive set. The set and costumes were a great asset to Sheila Arden’s confident production, and she showed herself well able to direct the cast so as to make best use of the many playing levels offered.
The ensemble numbers, in particular, benefitted greatly from the fact that all eighteen performers could be clearly seen, and the neat choreographic touches added by Caroline Essenhigh made good use of the limited space and possibilities of the venue and set. Peter Basley is to be commended for the detail in his multi-layered set, seeming to offer more entrances and exits by providing hiding places from which cast members could be revealed and ensuring that foliage, dry-ice and lighting combined to create the necessary atmosphere.
In a strong cast it seems unfair to single out individual performers, it is impossible to mention everyone, and there were certainly no weak links. Although there are no towering lead parts, the Baker and his wife have to carry the majority of the story, especially in the first act. Benjamin Essenhigh and Sarah Delany were entirely believeable and brought real emotion to their story arc.
Annalise Webb’s bright and knowing Red Riding Hood more than met her match in Mark Slaughter’s Wolf, whose entry was much enjoyed by the audience as he brought a real sense of danger on stage with him, even in this small part (usually doubled with Cinderella’s Prince). Scott Godfrey’s Jack was a heart-felt performance, totally in the moment at all times and with a level of stage presence that ensured most eyes were on him.
Georg Tormann and Adrian Morrisey were a well-matched – and well-sung – pair of Princes and the various members of Cinderella’s family, Rapunzel and Jack’s mother were played to the hilt, with Rosalind Killpack’s Cinderella sweetly sung and acted with real commitment. Jane Kerfoot’s Witch contrasted well with Katherine Vennard’s sweetly sung Rapunzel and then came into her own in her glamorous reincarnation in Act Two.
If the manipulation of a pair of legless cows, War Horse style, by performers, didn’t quite work, this was in no way down to the performers concerned – but legs would have helped, as would rather more in the way of eyes for the cows – the eyes are the soul of a puppet. The representation of feathers as Cinderella’s birds, although again performed very well, seemed stylistically separate from the rest of this literally-designed production.
One of the biggest problems for a director to solve with Into the Woods is the narrator – played by a child in the recent Regent’s Park production, often doubled with the Mysterious Man and dispensed with entirely in the film. In this production, the actors did their best with what they were given, but both are difficult parts to succeed with, and if neither quite succeeded, this was not the fault of actors or production.
The six musicians, led by Paul Harrison, provided exemplary accompaniment and well-deserved their extra round of applause as the audience was leaving. Sheila Arden and all concerned are to be congratulated on this impressive and entertaining production of a challenging piece.