MusicalNorth East & YorkshireOperaReview

Into the Woods – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Writer: James Lapine

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Director: James Brining

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson


Mother told me never stray from the path…

The path has strayed from you.

Most people will know Into the Woods from the recent all-star movie, and turn up expecting tall trees, and green woodlands. It’s therefore rather surprising to walk into a set which perfectly replicates a modern primary school classroom, complete with students in fairy tale fancy dress (their silent scenes are totally stolen by the girl in the house costume and the bin bag dragon – because we’ve all been the last minute costume kid at the fancy dress party!). The set up wonderfully draws the audience in, their teacher telling the stories and the classroom transforming around them.

Into the Woods is a show of two parts – wishes, and the consequences. Act One, regales the audience with the well-known fairy tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood, all linked together with a take on Rapunzel. Elements from all the stories – a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and shoes as pure as gold – must be collected by the Baker (Dean Robinson) and his Wife (Louise Collett) in order to break the Witch’s spell on their house. It’s happily ever after fairly soon – until Act Two tells us the story of what happened next.

Visually, the show is a stunner. Designer, Colin Richmond does a spellbinding job at creating a forest of playground swings, just eerie enough to unsettle the viewer, and perfectly reminiscent of a haunted wood, especially in tandem with Douglas O’Connell’s superb video design. Puppets by Rachel Canning add to the surreal nature of the production – the cow made from milk cartons and a recycling bin makes you feel especially empathetic, while the baby doll as the giant is genuinely unsettling. Some lovely lighting from Tim Mitchell completes the visuals, most notably at the end of Last Midnight in Act two.

Every member of the cast is perfect. Claire Pascoe channels her inner Meryl Streep as the Witch and looks like a gothic diva. Her voice is amazing, and she struts around the stage as if she owns it. Warren Gillespie and Ross McInroy’s flouncing about the stage as the lovelorn Princes during both renditions of Agony had the audience in tears of laughter. And Rachel J Mosley’s blood-soaked wolf hunting granny is an instant hit. So many beautiful voices and excellent actors on one stage is amazing to experience. However, in the second act especially, the songs feel as though they drag somewhat. Impeccable talent yes, but some of the ballads could be shortened, or even cut completely. At a run time of two and a half hours, there was a lot of fidgeting happening by the end. Even so, it is well worth a trip Into the Woods to experience the production for yourself.

Runs until Saturday 25 June 2016 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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