Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
The Cockpit (short walk from Marylebone and Edgware) until 24th June
Running Time with interval information (eg Runs 2h 20m, one interval)
Veronica Stein, 31st May, 2018.
Sondheim as fresh as ever
Cinderella is happily married, slippers restored to her feet, and Little Red’s rescued Granny. ‘What now?’ is the question Into the Woods asked in its 1986 premiere and has been asking ever since through countless productions and a 2014 blockbuster. At the Cockpit, director Tim McArthur has taken it in a new, decidedly British direction.
One of Sondheim’s seminal works, Into the Woods, stands the test of time because it’s timeless. A mélange of fairy-tales, including but not limited to Jack and the Bean Stalk, Cinderella, and Little Red Ridinghood, the story has neither time nor place- which bolsters the decision adapt it as an amalgam of reality television archetypes in 2018 and morality tales. Ugly TOWIE Stepsisters and a Jeremy Kyle inspired Jack and his mother update the material and also give rise to detailed, developed supporting characters- Madeleine McMahon as Jack’s chavvy mother is stellar in her comedic and maternal turns, and Michael Duke(Rapunzel’s Prince) as the ultimate poshboy makes memorable work of the less present royal in the story. Michele Moran’s Witch and Florence Odumosu’ Red Ridinghood too, are a delight.
It’s fitting that the best moments are those that involve the entire cast, for the ensemble is energetic and perhaps more varied than other versions (due to the adaptation), and one wishes that McArthur (who also plays the Baker- in this case a baker at Greggs) made use of this more. ‘Giants in the Sky’ is impressive not only do to Jamie O’Donnell’s thoughtful and poignant portrayal of Jack, but also in the inclusion of the ensemble in the staging. When the tragedy of Act II rolls around, this production inspires higher stakes than others due to the nature of the in-the-round space and the strength of the players. The set too, designed by Joana Dias, is aspirational and engaging- a complex network of ladders and woodchips offer a distinct wood-like feel but also scope in the height of the staging. Vittorio Verta’s lighting ensures a fantastical ambience and an air of mystery, fittingly so: we cannot see the height of the space, just as the consequences of wishes and decisions on part of these characters are unbeknownst to them.
‘No One is Alone’ is the highlight of sincerity in the entire piece, and perhaps its feeling of communion could have been translated elsewhere. The boldness of the adaptation also leads to some decisive takes on the more ambiguous elements of the source material- like what the relationship between Little Red and the Wolf actually is- which may grind some gears but overall is fitting for the update.
Nevertheless, Into the Woods is a story of magic but more importantly is grounded in the reality of consequence. All Star Production’s take on it expands on the universe with pure imagination, which is embedded into the spirit of the original. Though not all is successful, a fantastic score and many stellar elements inject more than a little magic into this standby in the musical theatre canon.
Narrator: Jordan Michael Todd
Cinderella: Abigail Carter-Simpson
Jack: Jamie O’Donnell
Baker: Tim McArthur
Bakers Wife: Jo Wickham
Cinderella’s Stepmother: Mary Lincoln
Florinda: Macey Cherrett
Lucinda: Francesca Pim
Jack’s Mother: Madeleine MacMahon
Little Red Ridinghood: Florence Odumosu
The Witch: Michele Moran
Cinderella’s Mother/Granny/Giant: Christina Thornton
Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf: Ashley Daniels
Rapunzel: Louise Olley
Mysterious Man: Jonathan Wadey
Rapunzel’s Prince: Michael Duke
Steward: David Pendlebury
Director: Tim McArthur
Musical Director: Aaron Clingham
Set Designer: Joana Dias
Costume Designer: Stewart Charlesworth
Lighting Designer: Vittorio Verta
Sound Designer: Gavin Hales
Assistant Director: Ellen Verenieks
Assistant Musical Staging: Nicola Martin
Production Assistant: Angie Lawrence
Production Photographer: David Ovenden
Photograph by David Ovenden