Review by Stephanie Lee
Watch This’ staging of Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine at Meat Market was incredibly alive and hit all the emotional beats of the story effortlessly, making for an incredibly enjoyable evening of music theatre. The cast were a real highlight of the evening, maintaining an infectious energy until the very end of the almost three-hour long show- no easy feat given the musical consists of almost exclusively sung numbers.
Most people will be familiar with the plot of Sondheim’s Into The Woods, given it is arguably his most well-known work. The first half of the show weaves together the classic fairy-tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Giant Bean Stalk, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding hood with a story about a childless Baker and his wife who must venture into the woods to fetch an item from each of the characters to reverse the spell that makes them unable to bear children. By the end of the first act everyone seemingly has gotten their wishes and is living happily ever after, however, after intermission the show takes a turn when a giant unexpectedly starts wreaking havoc on the town. Thus, the giant forces the characters to confront death and morality in a way that completely re-shapes their views of the world.
Given the story is set predominantly in the woods, Tulloch’s luscious, forest-like set design kept the woods as the focal point of the show, as if remaining a subconscious manipulator of the action and character development. The incorporation of different level risers heightened the comedy significantly, as it allowed for the actors to be able to interact with their surroundings more easily by hopping up and down steps. Having two separated sets of risers and about six different entrances made the space incredibly three dimensional, which as an audience was super engaging and dynamic, making the action more accessible.
Assisting the set was Sowinski’s magical lighting design that also gave the space a three-dimensional feel by subtly shifting with the action. The green and yellow light spilling in from the sides truly captured the essence of a forest floor with sunlight creeping in and immersed the audience in the story. Ricco and Cooke’s sound design also played a role in engrossing the audience, most notably in the giant’s scenes with big thuds surrounding the space coming from different directions as the giant moved around the village.
Without a doubt, the design elements all worked together very harmoniously playing with the fun and leaning into the metatheatrical nature of the musical. Meat Market also was an exceptional venue for this production as the flat floor space worked really well for the actors and design.
As a whole the cast were incredible, filling the space as an ensemble and emotionally engaging the audience on their character’s journeys through the woods. In particular, the bigger ensemble numbers were the highlights of the night with the rich harmonies and overlapping lyrics washing over the audience.
Although the cast were all fantastic, especially as an ensemble, there were a few standouts within it. The first was Cherine Peck as the witch, who was funny and won the audience over from the very first appearance in the opening number. Peck’s range was showcased as the Witch transforms from a hunched-over old lady into a dazzling youthful figure, distinguishing between the two different versions of the witch both vocally and physically. Nick Simpson-Deeks as both the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince was the comedic star of the performance. The Prince’s entrances and exits were always hilarious with the ballet-like posture adopted enhancing the ridiculousness of the Prince’s arrogance. Raphael Wong was also notable as Rapunzel’s Prince. In particular, Agony the song where both princes complain about having to chase their desired princesses was incredibly funny as the actors nailed the comedic beats and created such a rich sound vocally.
Overall, this staging of Into The Woods has added a modern touch and vibrant feel to a much-loved musical. It is certainly does not disappoint and makes for a great night out at the theatre.
Image Credit: Jodie Hutchinson