Phoenix Theatre Company’s latest offering is the ever popular Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, this entertaining musical intertwines the plots of several Grimm fairy tales and explores in more depth the consequences of some of our favourite childhood character’s actions.
Each of the cast and production team had their own reasons for wanting to be involved with Phoenix’s Into the Woods. Director Richard Perdriau pointed out the depth available to be explored… “The show can be enjoyed on so many levels. On the surface it’s a funny, clever and highly entertaining story, but look a little closer and there are so many layers that can be torn back exploring complex themes about our society such as parenting, greed, morality, and facing up to the consequences of our actions”.
The relationships between the characters, and between the different fairy tales, also seem to hold common appeal. Kellie-Ann Kimber, who plays Red Riding Hood, said “I love the different themes and subtext between each character and their relationships. That really drew me to wanting to do the show.” Steven Keane, who plays the Baker, loves how each character is integral to the story. “Even though it is based on fairy tales, the characters are very real and everyone can relate to them on a deeper level.” Perdriau also notes how the audience's perception of characters can change from good guys to bad guys with a single line. Stewart Garrett, the Musical Director, points out that even the music takes on the importance of a character in the show “The way it is interwoven into the characters 'lives' is just brilliant. The themes are just as important as the characters themselves.”
And of course, who doesn’t have fond memories of fairy tales? Certainly not Sian Brunhuber, who plays Cinderella. “I have always loved fairy tales, there's just something so magical about them, and this one is extra special because I feel it speaks to the mature audience and connects with the kid inside us all.” “Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella AND Rapunzel in one show?? Seriously, who doesn't love fairy tales!” agrees Kimber.
So, Into the Woods obviously holds a lot of attraction for the participants – what about the audience? “Audiences keep coming back to the show because of its simplicity and complexities all in the same show” says Garrett. “On one hand you have familiar fairy tales that everyone has grown up with, and on the other hand, the types of relationships that are formed throughout the piece. For older audiences, I feel that everyone can relate to how the characters develop and the challenges that they face. Younger audiences love the show because of the comical aspect the characters bring. It is 'Shrek' before 'Shrek' was even a thought in the eyes of Hollywood!” And as the Director points out. “Audiences keep coming back to Into the Woods because it’s entertaining. That’s the bottom line.” Perdriau explains that his “aim for every scene was to find the comedy. That then makes the touching or tense moments all the more effective. ”
It’s obvious that working on Into the Woods has been a rewarding, but challenging experience for everyone involved. “It's been a pretty amazing and challenging journey…this has been one of my favourite roles to play so far” said Kimber. “Also, having such a supportive cast in a Sondheim musical is always great because we all know how challenging and frustrating his music is!” Garrett’s biggest challenge is getting his musical interpretation across using only six orchestral players.” Due to the size of the theatre, I can only use six players. I have played to the strength and intimacy of this though. Any line that I feel is 'important' and should be highlighted will not be drowned out by a full orchestra.” The size of the theatre has been an ongoing challenge, and one that has had a big impact on aspects of the show. “While I saw the small stage area as an opportunity” explains Perdriau, “the real challenge at the Doncaster Playhouse is the lack of backstage area. That really impacts set design as it limits what can actually leave the stage during the show. What I’ve come up with is a set that keeps changing form to create the different scenes, with only a few things going off and on, but it’s still a terrific challenge. I really hate long set changes between scenes as they impact the flow, so I’ve literally choreographed the set changes into the show. Let’s see what happens on tech night!”
The intimacy of the theatre, and the unique viewpoint of the cast and production team, will lead to a very different interpretation of Into the Woods than what the audience may have seen before, Perdriau assures us. ”For one, I have had to reinterpret it to get it into a space as small as the Doncaster Playhouse… Rather than being a hindrance, I saw this as an opportunity to exploit the intimacy of Into the Woods. Sure there are a few scenes involving the entire cast, but for a great deal of show there are only 2 or 3 characters on stage at any given time, so this has allowed me to stage some moments that would simply not work in a large theatre”. Kimber is intending to put her own unique stamp on the role of Red Riding Hood. “I hope to portray Red Riding Hood as someone who is a bit edgy and grungier than the traditional Red Riding Hoods in other productions.” Brunhuber is touching on her inner dreamer to bring Cinderella to life. “Cinderella is a dreamer, a bit like me, who realises that true happiness isn't always where you expect to find it. She begins with a very simple take on life but her character just blossoms with such emotional strength and supportiveness that I feel can speak to us all. I've tried to bring that maturity and realness to her character without losing her naive charm.” Keane has also drawn on his own experiences to portray the Baker. “I have brought a vulnerability to the character that entices the audience to come on the journey with him. I have drawn on my own experiences in life that I have imparted into the Baker; love, loss and life lessons. “
Into the Woods is a show with something for everyone. Highly entertaining, yet with depth to explore further with each viewing. Challenging concepts are combined with well-loved fairy tales to delight our inner child – and everyone loves a twist at the end! The team predict lots of laughs, stunning costumes and a clever set. “The pages of this storybook will definitely come alive” promises Brunhuber. You can expect “cuteness, fun and chalk!! Lots of chalk!!!” finishes Kimber, “You'll understand more when you come and see the show!”
Join Phoenix Theatre Company for a trip Into the Woods at the Doncaster Playhouse 11th – 19th November, 2011.