BottledSnail’s Into The Woods is a charming, high-energy production that is a must see for any Melbourne based Sondheim fan.
Into The Woods is a show that weaves classic fairy tales with a fiendishly difficult score. BottledSnail brings the story and music to life with a talented cast and imaginative staging.
Sam Pearce’s direction is fast paced and clever, and sees the characters beginning on stage as the audience enters the space, having discovered a toy box full of props and costumes in an attic, before emerging as their characters. This accentuates the fantasy elements of Into The Woods nicely. Sets and props are minimalistic and well utilised. Milky White, the golden egg and the knife are all wooden cut outs retrieved from the toy box. This makes for some great comic moments, especially for poor old Milky White.
Kristy Griffin and Naomi Hickey-Humble’s choreography blends seamlessly with the staging, as is crucial for an ensemble show like this, with few traditional ‘dance’ moments. All the dancing felt organic, and was well suited to the cast, making songs like ‘Ever After’ and ‘Your Fault’ particular highlights.
Lighting is played with to great effect. The use of shadow giving the space a storybook feel, and more dramatic lighting is used for scenes with the witch and the giant. There are moments when the actors are partially in the dark, however the overall ambience that is created with the shadows is unique and very fitting to the show.
Assisting the show’s unreal atmosphere is Josh Nien’s costumes, which are a mix between a modern, clean take on the fairy tale genre and old-fashioned prince and princess outfits. This works with the toy box motif, as if real people are playing dress up. Perhaps the mix is done best with the wolf’s costume which is dapper, creepy and animalistic all at once.
Aimee Nguyen’s musical direction is simply outstanding, and Sondheim’s score sounds here every bit as good as a Broadway cast recording, and better than the recent film adaptation.
David Butler helps the cast in brilliantly managing Sondheim’s music, all of whom have strong chemistry as an ensemble, and don’t disappoint with the big numbers of the show.
Raf Cleeve Gerkins, who plays Cinderella, deftly handles her character’s curious blend of being both poised and downtrodden. She is consistent from start to finish, does a wonderful rendition of ‘On the Steps of the Palace’ and is breathtaking in ‘No one is Alone’.
Also making ‘No one is Alone’ a stand-out is Little Red Riding Hood played by Jess Cicarelli, who is very believable as the plucky young kid, and sounds so natural in the part. She acts opposite Samuel Fung as Jack, the daft dreamer, who gets plenty of laughs for his performance. This makes it all the more surprising and delightful when he sings ‘Giants in the Sky’ with such a beautiful voice.
The Baker, played by Rourke Puksand, also shines in the serious moments in the show, perfectly portraying the stressed-out husband and father, and really exercises his vocal talents in ‘No More’. The Mysterious Man is brought to life by Michael Strong, who is enchanting in this role, and has the most rich, lilting voice – which he also uses to great effect in ‘No More’.
Alongside the Baker, is the Baker’s Wife, portrayed by Kathryn Sutherland. They are very convincing as the complicated couple, and Kathryn’s voice easily sings what is quite a challenging part. She makes ‘Moments in the Woods’ poignant and engaging, and another of the show’s many highlights.
It is worth noting that the cast perform with neutral Australian accents, which is a welcome change from productions that are either gallingly American or coarsely Aussie; bringing sophistication to the production.
William Tucker and Rob Blowers are superbly outrageous as the lovelorn princes, and make ‘Agony’ and the reprise hilariously enjoyable. Again, this show is chock-a-block with great chemistry between all the characters, but none more so than between the two lively princes.
Another character played with great comic timing is Rapunzel (Ariella Gordon) who compliments her strong acting skills with a very lovely voice that soars from the backwards attic that becomes her tower.
Keeping Rapunzel locked away, is an excellently characterised witch by Kathryn Moloney, with a set of strong pipes, who steals the opening number of the show, and helps make ‘Your Fault’ impeccable.
The other villains of the show are Cinderella’s step mother and step sisters played by Felicity Shaw, Franceska Leoncini and Ali Ryan. They are all suitably cruel, hysterical and their taunting transforms into singing with ease. This is also the case for Jack’s weary mother played well by Trisha Lingard, who’s nagging turns into singing with finesse.
Guiding you through the story is Ant Freeman as an ‘everyman’ Narrator, who connects immediately with the audience, and is effectively staged to become whatever is needed for the scene. He also kicks off ‘Ever After’ with a great voice.
Aiding these characters are the other ensemble members and a crew that keeps this production a well-oiled machine – especially on the tech side of things, which mostly went off without a hitch. In the intermission there was a quite a lot of fog from a smoke machine, which was unexpected, but hey, as with the use of shadows, it certainly contributed to the otherworldly atmosphere.
The extremely high standard of production becomes doubly impressive when you learn that most of the cast and crew are in the legal profession, and juggle their passion for theatre with demanding careers.
Another great part of Saturday night’s performance, was how much the kids in audience seemed to enjoy the show, even with its complex themes, which I think speaks volumes about how entertaining the experience is as a whole.
BottledSnail delivers a captivating and thoughtful production, full of fabulous singers backed by an incredible band. So stop wishing, and book your tickets now.
MUSICAL DIRECTION 5.0
STAGE MANAGEMENT 4.0