Into the Woods
Reviewed – 25th May 2018
“a hugely complex work with multi-layered lessons and warnings”
Sondheim and Lapine’s Tony Award winning musical, ‘Into the Woods’, is transported imaginatively to the 21st century by Tim McArthur in a slick and entertaining production. It illustrates the timelessness of fairy tales, the messages they convey and, more importantly, the ones they don’t. ‘Cinderella’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’ and ‘Rapunzel’ are woven together by the plight of a baker and his wife who must undo a spell of infertility cast on them by a wicked witch. In Act One we enjoy the familiar stories as they all wish for their dreams and enter the woods – the big, brutal world – in pursuit of them. Their quests successful and desires fulfilled, they can live happily ever after. Or can they? Act Two unravels these aspirations, the consequences of how they are achieved, followed by disillusionment, responsibility, revenge, loss … and, ultimately, the many realisations of adulthood, including the underlying fascination for what lies in the woods.
The array of contemporary, larger-than-life roles fits effortlessly together. Some, however, find a more rounded definition than others: Jamie O’Donnell steals the show with his beautifully detailed interpretation of Jack, giving him depth and pathos, and his mother (Madeleine MacMahon) draws a wonderful picture of his background with her strong personality. Michele Moran, as the witch, arouses both fear and sympathy and Cinderella (Abigail Carter-Simpson) and Red Riding Hood (Florence Odumosu) depict a more human and questioning side to their personalities from the beginning. As the narrator, Jordan Michael Todd skilfully creates his own charismatic persona, embedding himself surreptitiously into the action while drawing us in as the storyteller.
The ensemble singing is tightly coordinated and well-balanced but the individual voices are less consistent. Both Jo Wickham and Tim McArthur show their professional musical theatre experience and there are many strong newcomers, but a few are, on occasions, overshadowed by the band. Aaron Clingham (Musical Director) and his musicians provide the perfect accompaniment to the performance.
Staged in the round, we are wrapped up in the comings and goings of the play, with wood chippings underfoot. Joana Dias’ set design of assorted ladders gives the feeling of a play for adults, offset by the rudimentary props. The lighting (Vittorio Verta) ably fashions the dappled sunlight and shadows in the woods as well as the fairy-tale special effects.
‘Into the Woods’ is a hugely complex work with multi-layered lessons and warnings. The overriding theme appears as “Be careful what you wish for” but there is also a powerful point made to parents: “Be careful what you say, children may listen”. Mothers and fathers figure prominently, accepting or otherwise the repercussions of their parenting. It broaches the subjects of blame and greed, reinforces the supportive nature of survival and addresses our natural sense of adventure – do we want to live happily ever after or do we want to live life? Tim McArthur’s astute direction brings out these ideas and makes them relevant.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by David Ovenden
Into the Woods
Cockpit Theatre until 24th June
Also directed by Tim McArthur