Into The Woods
It always amuses me how many people accidentally leave at interval during ‘Into The Woods’ because they think that the show is over. While on one hand we know that ‘happily ever after’ is not necessarily a realistic expectation for our own lives, we enjoy it (and often expect it) in narratives.
‘Into The Woods’ takes the ultimate in happy endings – our favourite fairy tales – and turns them on their head. We’re then left with some more confronting questions: what do you do if the handsome prince you’ve longed for is a player? Can you really protect your children from the dangers of the world? Is money and power important in life? And should you steal from the giant that lives at the top of a beanstalk? (The answer‘s pretty much ‘no’ on that last one)
Directed by Richard Perdriau, this is quite a different take on ‘Into The Woods’. With the imaginary worlds of fairy tales as the foundation for this piece, Perdriau asks the question: "If a child can draw a few lines on a blackboard and know that it’s a house, why can’t we do the same?" And this is exactly how he has constructed the world in which he places his actors. The set (designed by Perdriau and Bernie Bone) consisted of a jigsaw of black blocks, flats and shapes that were drawn on by the ‘Narrator’s Apprentices’ with white chalk, and reconfigured again and again to create a multitude of locations in a small space. While the concept was inspired, the execution was a little more difficult; the space was really a touch too small for scene changes to work seamlessly amid the frenetic traffic of actors. Having said that, I applaud Perdriau for truly doing something different with the look of a show that is often simply a reproduction of the original Broadway production.
I also enjoyed Perdriau’s directorial style; there were some great interpretations of numbers and scenes that got right to the heart of the themes that he was exploring. In particular, I enjoyed the robotic feel of the opening number, the Witch’s interaction with the baby during ‘Last Midnight, and the simple, but visually spectacular ‘Giants In The Sky’.
Musical Director Stewart Garrett had some wonderful voices to work with, and the cast produced a great sound en masse. The technical difficulties of this piece were negotiated well – though I heard some timing inconsistencies between cast and band, they were rectified quickly and the show flowed easily. Garrett’s five piece band were tight and well controlled, never overpowering the cast.
Costumes were beautifully designed and constructed by Rosalind Surace. The muted colours of the peasant class contrasted nicely with the lavish colour and detail of the royalty, and all costumes looked quite striking against the black set. Surace chose to keep the style traditional, and Red Riding Hood’s nose ring and Doc Martens, while they may have been an apt reflection of her character, were the only things that did not sit quite right.
As lighting designer, Brenton Van Vliet made the small stage a dynamic place and created a sense of colour within the space that worked well with the colourless set, making it come alive. Sound
design, by Michael Parsons, suffered some opening night crackling from many individual mics, but was generally a good balance between vocals and band.
The ‘Narrator’s Apprentices’ – aka stage hands Dale Hall, Callum Hosking and Lachlan Vann – had a highly complex job which they performed admirably. Dressed in simple black costumes, they not only moved the jigsaw set in a vast array of formations, but were constantly drawing new set details with chalk, and actively taking part in the drama of the show. While always visible, they were as obvious or as inconspicuous as they needed to be – it was a shame they were working with such contrarily loud set pieces!
‘Into The Woods’ has loads of fabulous characters, and every time I see it, I usually come away with a new ‘favourite’. As Jack, Tyler Hess’ characterisation was an absolute riot – he ran the full gambit, from endearingly vague to real tears in ‘No One Is Alone’. As Cinderella, Sian Brunhuber was every inch the princess, from her beautiful vocals to her earnest and naïve confusion as the girl who gets everything she wishes for. Everywhere that the ugly stepsisters, Florinda (Danika Alt) and Lucinda (Julia Duke) went, hilarity ensued; their facial expressions (and headwear in general) were great.
As the Witch, Katie Packer gave a commanding performance. She has good comic timing and sings beautifully. However, her character’s speaking voice was quite high pitched, and sometimes it was a little difficult to understand her. Rounding out the lead cast were Steven Keane as the Baker and Kelly Windle as the Baker’s Wife. Both were strong singers in their own right, but I felt their characters suffered from a lack of pace in their dialogue. There were so many funny lines that were glossed over, that could have given their characters a bit more zing.
Simon Evans (Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince) and Josh Lovell (Rapunzel’s Prince) were suitably suave, and Catherine Langley belted out some serious uber notes as Rapunzel. As the Mysterious Man/Narrator, Darren Mort injected great energy into his performance, but needed to read the audience applause a little better so that none of his narration was lost. Kellie-anne Kimber found the right combination of cuteness and sassiness as Red Riding Hood, but struggled with her accent. Indeed, many of the cast found accents to be a challenge. I enjoyed the variety of accents, as I felt it created more interesting and defined characters, but it can be a trap, as poorly executed accents are quite distracting.
Phoenix automatically take a risk by deciding to stage productions like ‘Into The Woods’ in a space like the Doncaster Playhouse. However, I admire the innovation of creative output that comes from being forced to work with limited space and resources, and the company, instead of bemoaning it, are embracing these limitations as an opportunity to think outside the box. Congratulations Phoenix on an interesting and different production.
'Into The Woods' runs until the 19th November. Ticket Bookings 9012 5897 or book online www.phoenixtheatrecompany.org - See What's On for more info.
Photos by Ricardo Jimenez Escalon