Review: Into the Woods

Into the Woods is a musical by Stephen Sondheim, first debuting in 1986, and later being adapted for film in 2014. When you learn that it was, in fact, Disney who masterminded the film version, you may not be too surprised to discover that Into the Woods is simply a huge amalgamation of fairy tales. The musical opens by introducing us to the main cast. Among the likes of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalky fame) and Jack’s cow we also meet a baker and his wife. The main story begins when the baker’s neighbour, a witch, visits to inform them of a curse she has placed on their house. This is preventing them from having a child. Generously, the witch is willing to offer a second chance and informs the couple that they need to bring her four ingredients for a potion to lift the curse.

This is a big musical, both in size and length: including the interval the performance lasts three hours. Accordingly, there is a fairly large cast, comprising some 20 members all with some great performances in this play. The main couple, Ed Rees and Katherine Briggs as the Baker and his Wife, are both excellent and pinned the entire story together. Their neighbour, the Witch, played by Emily Hardy, is just as invaluable. Emily also has some brilliant moments of solo singing, including an impressive little song about her greens. In general, I appreciate just how clear the lyrics are in all of the songs and how well the actors are able to handle some fairly difficult pieces. However, in the case of the two princes what really stands out isn’t their singing, great as it is, but their hilarious acting. Having risen from the near-death that must have followed the after party for Jesus Christ Superstar, Richie Johnsen (formally known as Jesus) continues to neglect his degree, this time to play a Charming Prince who falls in love with Rapunzel. Sadly marks must be deducted due to director Owen Kennedy’s decision to keep the messiah’s holy chest hidden throughout this musical, but Richie is hilarious nonetheless. No less brilliant, Mark Woods plays the other Charming Prince and a slightly dodgy wolf too. The Princes’ duet, “Agony”, is one of the highlights of a great show. Furthermore, as a wolf, Mark is great alongside the unsuspecting Little Red Riding Hood, played by Isla Brendon. In particular the scene in Grandmother’s cottage is excellent. Around half a dozen actors come together to build the most quickly constructed cottage and bed I’ve ever seen and although I didn’t quite envisage Little Red Riding Hood being eaten quite like that, it was a funny and well-performed scene. On top of this, Isla’s portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood as a pert and spirited young girl may have been my favourite performance of the whole show and certainly one of the funniest.

Overall, the show can perhaps be best summed up as a pantomime that can be enjoyed more by an older audience. I certainly enjoyed it. It’s a good story and there’s something very satisfying about seeing all these classic fairy tales being brought together into one giant crossover of a musical. I also like the way the story is framed, with Martha Lily Dean playing young boy, who acts as the narrator to this story. Key to the musical of course, is the addition of the band and Collingwood’s amazing tech. The band are very good, and effectively help not just in songs but also provide various sound effects. The tech is also effective, adding nice little details such as leafy patterns of green light, or placing the two princes under spotlights for their duet and also a few rather eye-catching crashes of light and sound to mark out giant events (events involving giants that is). However, it does seem that in places the lighting is not as clean as it could have been, especially when in one scene two characters on the left of the stage are simply left in darkness. Most likely this issue will be easily fixed though and I can’t imagine this happening again over the next few nights of the show.

If you’re a fan of fairy tales you should definitely consider heading off “Into the Collingwood” – ha – to see this show some time soon. The director, Owen Kennedy, has put together a great show with the help of a very talented cast. And what’s more, since the show is a whole three hours in length, you know you’re getting value for money when you buy that ticket. This is an impressive feat and marks the umpteenth decent musical that DST has put on in this week alone and I’m excited to see how many other musicals they can feasibly put on, if any.

DULOG’s Into the Woods is on Wednesday 27th-Saturday 2nd March at 7:30pm and 2nd March at 2pm in the Mark Hillery Arts Centre.

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