Into the Woods

Wed 12th – Fri 21st March 2014

reviews

Lewis Scott

at 02:32 on 13th Mar 2014

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A thoroughly enjoyable evening whichever way you look at it, Into The Woods tests the capabilities of the ADC stage and shows off the remarkable talent of its cast. The entire production benefits from a general comedic tone which makes use of some of the limitations of the theatre, the props and the script to great effect. The opening night experienced some technical problems, but that didn't detract from the overall experience.

Jessica Poon’s set design makes use of a large set-piece which takes up most of the stage but definitely makes best use of the space available, although the revolving stage which reveals the different aspects of the set didn’t always behave correctly. The visuals of the show are excellent and strike just the right balance between a professional and an amateur performance. Adam Smith’s lighting design was, however, not used to its best effect as the technicians seemed to be several cues behind at times and then rushed through lighting states – something which was very distracting and often occurred during big emotional songs towards the end. Oli Rew’s band was excellent and the evening’s music was perfect, however the use of microphones for the cast was patchy and affected comprehension in places. That said, technical mishaps are only to be expected on opening night and I have every faith that this team will be able to iron out the problems by the next performance.

There were so many brilliant acting performances that I can’t possibly list them all here, but I’ll pick out a few highlights. Lily Grieve as the witch was fantastically funny in places and capable of great pathos at others. Her part in the first song resulted in spontaneous and wild applause from the audience and there are many other moments of brilliance, culminating in her perfect performance in “Last Midnight”. Her mask in the first half, however, restricted some of the pick-up on her microphone and it was at times difficult to understand her. Mary Galloway as the Baker’s wife was absolutely excellent, her singing voice is beautiful and her acting is nuanced and interesting. She has a remarkable vitality of character that shines from the stage and her performance in “Any Moment” perfectly conveys the comedy and tragedy of the moment. Will Flinn must be commended for keeping a straight face through his scenes which are some of the funniest in the entire show. His physicality and timing are excellent and his performance of “Agony (Reprise)” with Quintin Beer stands out as one of the best-done parts of the show. Aydan Greatrick and Lily Parham as the Baker and Cinderella, respectively, are also very talented actors and their dynamic performances lead the show, which is certainly in safe hands with this pair of performers.

The puppets are an interesting part of the show, because they are simultaneously one of the best and worst aspects of the production. The puppets are not perfect, but they are self-consciously so. The production team seemed to have accepted the technical limits of the theatre and their budget and have had to compromise on some of the puppetry and other animals. The puppets are used, therefore, to add to the comedy and it is an effective strategy for dealing with the problem. Every single time the birds appeared on stage, the audience laughed and the funniest puppet-related moment is the death of Milky White, which is not to be missed. Having said that, I do hope that was the intention of the puppet-makers, but I will assume that it was and enjoy the effect!

Andrew Room’s show is a triumph and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants an enjoyable evening of musical theatre. All the small gripes about the technical mistakes and the slightly shabby-chic design do not matter because what you get when you watch this show is a great evening and a lot of laughs – as well as being able to enjoy the excellent performances of this talented young cast and crew. Into the Woods is a show that involves a lot of work and is highly complex but this team has worked well with the material to produce something awesome that must be seen to be fully appreciated.

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Anton Moiseienko

at 10:21 on 13th Mar 2014

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‘Nice is different than good’, the ADC Theatre warns us in the description of Into the Woods on its website, quoting the words of the Witch’s passionate plea to sacrifice one boy for the greater good – one of the many vivid, imaginative, and wonderfully aphoristic songs with which this musical is brimming. Yet, the production of Into the Woods by the ADC is both nice and good – or should I say excellent?

The Tony-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine provides rich soil for innovation, talent, and ambition to thrive: and indeed, an enchanting theatrical piece grew out of the magic beans of director Andy Room’s affection to Into the Woods. The fairytale unfolded on stage as Cinderella, Jack (not yet with the beanstalk), Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood were brought together in the forest by fortune and misfortunes. All of them turned out to have something that the poor Baker and his wife needed in order to appease the Witch and convince her to lift the spell of infertility from their family. Hopelessly immersed in the atmosphere of the magic nowhere land brought about by elaborate decorations, lighting, and costumes, the audience followed the travails of the characters who were confronted with both their traditional fairytale-style challenges and all-too-human problems.

As the musical occasionally ceded the stage to a mild family drama and then returned in all of its splendid cheerfulness, acting was the key. All lead actors gave a remarkable performance. Aydan Greatrick (the Baker) and Mary Galloway (his wife) were particularly convincing in their roles as a childless couple–desperately wishing to have children and yet hesitant as to how far they can go in pursuit of their dream. However, I would not want to create a false impression of Into the Woods being ‘serious’ in any way. This show is neither didactic nor terribly thoughtful: but a slight touch of drama does make it moving and helps engage with the audience’s emotions, thus rendering a dynamic plot twice as gripping as it would otherwise be. The ADC cast made the most out of these swift transitions from hilarious to touching. Both acting and singing were impeccable.

Apart from the Baker’s family, Lily Grieve’s onstage witchcraft especially resonated with me. In the course of the show, the Witch developed from a caricatured–and extremely funny!–malevolent creature into a much more sympathetic woman, who is apparently overcome by her fear of the World. She is longing to prevent those whom she loves from entering the Woods, to shield them from the strange and hostile World full of wolves, giants... and people. Yet, ultimately the World crashes her fragile idyll, and this is as amusing as the tragedy of someone’s fictional life may be. For all of the troubles that its characters go through, Into the Woods is exceptionally good at looking on the bright side of life.

All in all, ADC’s Into the Woods is a first-rate show staged by a team of wildly gifted people. It promises an evening of music and magic for its audience, and is well worth watching and listening. But beware: these two and a half hours will pass far too quickly.

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