Whether we wanted to eat a house made entirely of gingerbread and escape the clutches of an evil witch, or grow a vine from our own magic beans, fairy tales have impacted all of our lives in one way or another. For children and adults alike, these extraordinary stories are able to capture our imaginations and whisk us away into wonderful and mysterious worlds.

Rourke Puksand as The Baker

Rourke Puksand as The Baker

The team at BottledSnail Productions are in the final weeks of rehearsals for Into The Woods, and director Sam Pearce, along with assistant director Ellie Morrison, have worked tirelessly over the last few months to deliver a production that will honour the fairy tales we all grew up loving so much, while taking the audience on a unique and beautiful journey.

Pearce (who also works as the company’s artistic director) first worked with Morrison when they both performed as cast members in BottledSnail’s ‘Parade’ in 2015. It was clear to both from then that not only did they work well together, but their respective inputs and ideas were complimentary of each other’s. “We make a great team.” says Pearce. “Our styles just blend so well. I love taking a visual approach when it comes to directing. The design and staging of a show can really add so much, and I love to look at it from that perspective, whereas Ellie has been a cast member in Into The Woods twice before, so she’s able to bring her intimate knowledge of the story to the characterisation. It’s such a fun and collaborative partnership.”

BottledSnail Productions have always prided themselves on being a team-based, collaborative and welcoming company, and it’s clear Pearce and Morrison love working in that environment. “It’s been that approach the whole time.” Morrison adds. “We’re generally not very prescriptive people when it comes to working on a show. We’ve been blessed with such a wonderful, talented cast, and throughout the process we’ve worked closely with them to get their thoughts on our ideas, and to ensure the direction is consistent. Not only this, but we’ve worked alongside our musical directors (David Butler and Aimee Nguyen) and our choreography team, (Kristy Griffin and Naomi Hickey-Humble) making it a really team-based venture, which is what BottledSnail is all about.”

Morrison notes that there have been many renditions of Into The Woods, including the Disney film version. “We wanted to set ourselves apart and stand out, but also honour the music and lyrics that people love so much. The messages in this show are so important, so in working with the cast, we decided to simplify and pare back the staging, and really focus on the lyrics, themes and characterisation of Into The Woods. This approach has really allowed us to communicate the story more effectively.” Pearce adds, “It’s a very complex show to stage, so in removing some of those more distracting elements, we feel we’ll be able to engage the audience much more with these characters and their journeys.”

And it’s in these journeys that the characters take, and how the audience connect to them that is of such a high importance to both Pearce and Morrison. “What’s so magical about Into The Woods is that these are fairy tale characters that everyone is familiar with, but the challenges they face in the story, and the personal trials they face are something we can all relate to in our real lives.” Pearce says. “The dialogue is so witty and heartfelt…whether it’s the story of Rapunzel, or Cinderella’s moments, it’s hard to not find a connection to these tales.”

Rafaela Cleeve Gerkens as Cinderella

Rafaela Cleeve Gerkens as Cinderella

When it came to BottledSnail’s decision to take on Into The Woods, both Pearce and Morrison agree that Sondheim’s music and lyrics were such a huge factor. Sondheim has such a rich history as being the songwriter for some of the world’s most well renowned musicals, so for this enthusiastic pair; it was a no-brainer. “Enhancing is definitely the word.” states Morrison. “This story is communicated not only with the clever lyrics and funny script, but when it comes to the musicality of these songs, there are just so many layers.” Morrison remarks that she feels a connection with the song ‘On The Steps Of The Palace’, and loved bringing out the characterisation of that number with cast member Rafaela Cleeve Gerkens (playing Cinderella). “When hearing that song it’s almost like ‘My goodness, I’ve been in that situation and someone’s just saying it back to me!’ It’s a very crucial moment for the show.” When it comes to Pearce’s musical highlight from the show, he loves the subtle complexity of some of the pieces. “It’s such beautiful music, though some of the songs are exceedingly complex. For example ‘Your Fault’, while being such a great number, is difficult for any musician to sing. However it can be deceptively simple at times. It really showcases the brilliance of what Sondheim did with the music and lyrics.”

Both Pearce and Morrison display such excitement when speaking about their cast. “We really are very lucky, there’s such a depth of talent.” Enthuses Morrison with pride. “I love the dynamics between characters in this story, and I’ve especially enjoyed working with Rourke Puksand and Michael Strong, who play the Baker and the Mysterious Man. It’s such a rare, beautiful and raw moment that these two share in the show. Their time on-stage together is just an example of how talented our cast are, as it’s not just these two cast members who display this amazing work.” Pearce adds that he finds his directors stride when working on the soliloquy songs of Into The Woods. “Giants In The Sky, Moments In The Woods…songs like these are such standouts. Our cast do such a great job in portraying these characters’ journeys during those more tender moments.”

It’s clear that both Pearce and Morrison take their craft very seriously, and both demonstrate such a dedicated passion when discussing their approach to directing. Pearce excitedly remarks, “We both grew up being enchanted by the fairy tales shown in Into The Woods, and not only did we want to take our cast and team on this wonderful journey, but the audience too. It really is going to be a special, and magical show.”

BottledSnail’s Into The Woods opens Thursday February 15th, and runs on various dates through to Saturday February 24th at the Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park VIC. Tickets available from http://www.gasworks.org.au/event/Into-the-woods/