Into The Woods

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Into the Woods is one of Sondheim’s indisputable masterpieces. Regularly staged in a multiplicity of ways since its Broadway premiere in 1987, with a score and book both witty and philosophical, it never fails to excite. But it’s no mean feat to produce on a fringe budget and director/actor, Tim McArthur has gone for broke with an ambitious full scale production in the round with a cast of seventeen and a five piece band, elegantly re-scored and directed by Aeron Clingham.

The show interlocks familiar fairtytale’s such as Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Bean-stalk and the Baker’s Wife until all the characters collide in the woods and chaos ensues. Set-designer Joana Dias has built the woods out of wood – not trees but ladders reaching up and suspended from the ceiling with woodchip all over the floor (it’s in the round), and a wooden look out structure for the tower. Inside this less than leafy woods, live a distinctly urban collection of characters.

Though it’s clear that the cast are playing contemporary British stereotypes Tim McArthurs’ conceit, (which you won’t necessarily spot if you haven’t read the programme) is that all the characters are based on stereotypes from British reality TV shows. So the ugly sisters are from ‘The Only Way is Essex’, the Prince’s from ‘Made In Chelsea’, Jack and his mum a Scottish ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’ guest. And I’m not sure what show they come from but the Baker and his wife work in Greg’s and give Red Riding Hood, (street dancing in her massive headphones) a blue plastic shopping basket to carry the bread to her grannies. This concept works best for the majority of actors who inhabit the characters more fully, rather than resting on the easy tropes suggested by these stereoptypes.

Little Jack, played by Jamie O’Donnell with his cold-sore and his aggressive, Irn bru swigging mum is particularly touching and Michele Moran gives an intoxicating performance as The Witch swing from sharp and dry to utterly desperate and a voice that puts Meryl Streep’s film version to shame.

Unfortunately sound issues are inevitable when trying to mic up a cast of seventeen on a budget and with the weaker vocalists, certain songs were underwhelming. However the ensemble numbers were always powerful both vocally and physically, conjuring up a raw power as the motley crew jerk and crouch their way around the space.

The central message, ‘Be careful what you wish for’ is explored through each of these determined and flawed characters and ultimately those who survive have to find a way to work together with what they have left. Tim McArthur’s production manages to be a meditation on loss and survival as well as an extremely witty game.

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