David Ovenden

Into The Woods

Reviewer's Rating

If this is your first introduction to Into The Woods, you may be surprised to witness the violence of some of our much-loved fairy tales but, if you attend this version as a die-hard Into The Woods fan, you will be surprised to see it set within the 21st century. Tim McArthur’s adaptation projects the traditional fairy tales into the modern day in an engaging display of creativity, innovation and talent. This musical adapts the stories of fairy tale characters by applying a much darker, more morbid twist; happy endings are a lot harder to come by in this fairy tale world.

The experience itself is like no other. The Cockpit is a theatre-in-the-round which provides an intimate setting where the audience share sofa-like benches and, at the front, are effectively sitting on the floor right amongst the action. The covering of bark chippings contributes to the atmosphere by recreating the forest environment as the smell of wood permeates the show. A lot of care is taken to ensure all sides of the seating are included in the action and, as such, the staging excels when the cast are performing their group numbers. At times, you are literally a few centimetres away from the actors and can watch the intricacies of their characters up close and personal. It is truly an immersive experience.

Sondheim’s soundtrack is well-recognised and this cast definitely do it justice. There are, however, a few standout out performers. Michele Moran (the Witch) commands the entire show. Her smooth transition from the crooked, old woman into the magnificent witch is exemplary, as is her impressive voice and emotional capacity. Another standout performance comes from Abigail Carter-Simpson (Cinderella) as, without a doubt, she has the best voice of the cast with her rendition of ‘On the Steps of the Palace’ perfectly marrying performance with vocal quality. Other notable numbers include the ‘Finale’ of Act 1, ‘Your Fault’ and the breath-taking ‘Last Midnight’.

Aside from the musical brilliance, other members shine mostly through their acting. Whilst the characterisation of Jack (played by Jamie O’Donnell) and his mother (played by Madeleine MacMahon) with their jogging bottoms and rough personalities initially seems unnecessary, their appeal grows due to their flawless acting and the brilliant dynamic between them. Their costumes, including a pink and lacy thong, may seem distracting to begin with but they soon fade into the background as you get more and more engrossed.

This high standard, however, does not define the entire production. Whilst Tim McArthur’s vision for this adaption is inspired, I believe his performance as the Baker lacks emotional depth and the ability to connect to the audience. Furthermore, the songs of Little Red Ridinghood (played by Florence Odumosu) at times seem a bit strained, although this may be due to the many baked goodies she is munching whilst singing – a talent in itself. As a result, it feels like the focus is mostly placed on the setting and unconventional characterisation rather than that of an assertive and refined performance.

Overall, however, this is a truly fantastic show! Come along to see fairy tale characters wearing thongs, smoking cigarettes and taking selfies. Sounding mismatched? Well, in the words of Cinderella’s prince, ‘anything can happen in the woods’.