In Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods treasured fairytale characters are brought to life in a rather dark, Brothers Grimm-esque fashion. The detailed prologue at the beginning of Act 1 introduces almost all of the characters, and their wishes; Cinderella wanting to go to a festival, Jack’s Mother wanting for gold and The Baker and his wife, more than anything, for a child. All of these dreams lead our characters to venture into the nearby wood, but not without a sense of foreboding as Red Riding Hood cheerfully recites her mother’s warning – “mother said straight ahead, not to delay or be mislead”.
Director Tim McArthur has attempted to bring Into The Woods into the modern era, turning the different sets of characters into caricatures of groups of people featured on modern reality TV, “Towie”, “Jeremy Kyle”, etc. One of the ways he has chosen to do this is through the use of accents – Jack and his Mother Scottish, the Witch and Rapunzel Irish, and Cinderella’s and step-family from Essex. The accents were executed technically well by the cast, but the result was a cacophony of different accents, which was far too much on top of Sondheim’s already complex score – without even mentioning the fact that the characters all live walking distance from each other.
Aaron Clingham led a strong 5 piece band from the rafters. The company’s singing was mostly strong, though crackling mics distracted at times, and there were quite a few dropped and even incorrect lines which had to be backtracked over by quite a few cast members. Jordan Michael Todd as the Narrator supplied the sound effects live on stage to great success – mooing for Milky White the cow, crying for the newborn baby – enabling the production to completely eradicate recorded sound.
Joana Dias’ set was gorgeous. Made up of a multitude of ladders, some were strapped to wooden decking as if growing up from the stage like trees, and the rest suspended in the air, creating a beautiful image for the audience to gaze at. But despite the beauty of this hanging mobile, the ladders on the ground weren’t interactive enough – there was only one large central ladder able to be mounted and the rest the actors either didn’t, or couldn’t, climb (perhaps for stability reasons). This was a great shame as one felt it became rather redundant without actual use. There were also many peculiar additions to the script which mainly took the form of cheap gags. Rapunzel ended up addled on cocaine, the princes shared a ridiculously long secret handshake every time they met, and “Yah’d” themselves to death after almost every line – none of which furthered the plot or enhanced the story. It felt at times that we’d been led out of the woods, and into the village panto.