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Review of Into The Woods at The Cockpit

Into the Woods (photo by David Ovenden)
Into the Woods (photo by David Ovenden)

I have a tendency to overanalyse things. This can be a huge mistake, particularly in regards to fairy stories. Why? You may ask. Well, most fairy stories are actually quite nasty. Death, destruction and humiliation are often at their heart, The saving grace is that they always finish with a happy ending, or do they? Well, pop along to the Cockpit Theatre for an evening of Sondheim with Into The Woods.

The musical starts with an introduction from the Narrator (Jordan Michael Todd) who introduces the audience to the various protagonists in the story. First, we have a wistful Cinderella (Abigail Carter-Simpson), unhappy since the death of her mother (Christina Thornton ). Her father has remarried and brought his new wife (Mary Lincoln) and her two daughters Florinda (Macey Cherrett) and Lucinda (Francesca Pim) into her life. Next is Jack (Jamie O’Donnell) and his young mother (Madeleine MacMahon), living on the breadline with a cow that doesn’t give milk. And finally, a Baker (Tim McArthur) and his wife (Jo Wickham) desperately wanting a child but unable to have one due to a witch’s (Michele Moran) curse. In order to make their lives better, everyone finds themselves heading into the woods, and they won’t be alone. There is Little Red Riding Hood (Florence Odumosu) off to visit her grandmother, the sweet-voiced Rapunzel (Louise Olley) who has enchanted one of the King’s two sons (Michael Duke and Ashley Daniels) while the other works with his Steward (David Pendlebury) to find a love of his own. Finally, who is the Mysterious Man (Jonathan Wadey) that appears and offers advice when least expected?

Now, you may think you have seen Into the Woods before, but I can guarantee you haven’t seen a production quite like this. Director Tim McArthur has made some interesting choices about the presentation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s original story. For a start, it has been moved firmly into the twenty-first century. So The Stepmother and Ugly Sisters are TOWIE trash, the princes are straight from Made in Chelsea and Jack’s mum is a larger swilling thong wearing chav ready for a close up on the Jeremy Kyle show. On the whole, this approach works pretty well, particularly in their highly appropriate costumes by Stewart Charlesworth, and it’s interesting how the various characters fit into their contemporary personas. The show is performed in the round which is fine, except there are times when cast members are rather shielded by Joana Dias’ ladder and pallet dominated set.

The cast, however, are first rate. I was really impressed by Jordan Michael Todd as the Narrator who not only keeps the audience up to speed as to what is going on but also has to look as if he is involved in each story as it unfolds. This he pulls off with consummate skill, head bobbing along with the singing and a happy smile on his face as he observes the shenanigans going on around him. I also really liked Madeleine MacMahon as Jack’s wayward mother, who has a wonderful style in appearing to be an obnoxious drunk but who really comes to the fore in the second act when defending her son.

The singing was great all the way through, although there were definite problems with some of the microphones, you could overall hear Sondheim’s wonderfully convoluted lyrics, with characters singing over each other as they get their story and thoughts across. This is one of those musicals where there isn’t a bad song, and it’s difficult to pick out favourites. However, I do love the song ‘Agony’ where the two highly privileged princes vie with each other to see who is having the worst time because they can’t get the woman they want. It’s a great song in its own right but Michael Duke and Ashley Daniels really take it to another level of absurdity with their ‘OK Yah’ accents and SW3/SW10 clothes.

All told, this is an innovative take on the original which works well and is very entertaining. Whilst the production is not perfect, it is very enjoyable and was much appreciated by the audience including me.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Into the Woods follows a childless baker and his wife as they dream of having a child. In a bid to undo the curse placed on them and other storybook characters, the witch sends them into the woods to reverse this. As act one unfolds, all the fairy tales reach the ending of their tales but does this mean everyone will be happy? This innovative production sees the giant’s wife from Jack and the Beanstalk come down to the kingdom to seek revenge, crushing many characters on her way. Will the storybook people learn to work together to defeat her?

This wonderful adaptation of Into the Woods is performed in the round with an ensemble of seventeen larger-than-life characters drawn from modern day Britain. From the Jeremy Kyle Show to William and Kate’s royal wedding, this contemporary revival is complete with a drug-using Rapunzel, a paedophile Wolf and an evil stepmother straight from TOWIE.

Director Tim McArthur
Musical Director Aaron Clingham
Producer All Star Productions and Trilby Productions
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick

Into the Woods
Running Time Two hours 25 minutes (plus interval)
Wednesday 23 May – Sunday 24 June 2018
https://www.thecockpit.org.uk/

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