Into the Woods*** (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Posted: August 1, 2016 in Theatre

into the woods

“Be careful what you wish for” is the message of Stephen Sondheim’s  show and how true it is. A couple of years ago, a revival would have been high on the wish list, but, since then, several fringe productions and a major Hollywood film version have relegated it way down and this imported production from the American company Fiasco Theater really suffers from poor timing.

If there is anyone left who does not know, James Lapine’s book knots together several classic fairy stories and turns them upside down as they are untangled. A first viewing of the show delivers the shock of all the characters living unhappily after the interval, a second viewing is needed to marvel at the intricacy of it all, but, once it has become familiar, it starts to feel a little stale. Even so, the show provides a home for some of Sondheim’s most sublime songs – AgonyStay With Me, Children Will Listen, Last MidnightNo More, No One is Alone, etc.

A pre-show announcement that the Baker’s Wife, whose storyline revolves around her inability to have children, is to be played by Jessie Austrian, who is in the later stages of pregnancy, sets the tone, by telling us that this is a production in which the audience’s imagination  will play a huge part. There is nothing too imaginative about the staging, it is all about improvisation, ensemble timing and boundless energy. The accompaniments come from an upright piano (played by Evan Rees) that is moved around the stage at dangerous speeds and members of the company picking up various instruments.

Vanessa Reseland is a youngish Witch, wearing a Phantom-like mask until she transforms into a chic, modern vamp. Her Last Midnight is a stunner. Claire Karpen is a sweet Cinderella, Patrick Mulryan a dopey Jack and Noah Brody and Andy Grotelueschen are less than charming princes (the latter doubling as the cow). The entire show is sung beautifully, most memorable being Ben Steinfeld (as the Baker) stepping down into the audience for a heartbreaking No More. But the title of that song says it all and, for me, it feels like a good idea to stay out of the woods for a while.

Performance date: 27 July 2016

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