Review by Hannah Fredriksson
It’ll take more than a little bit of rain to stop Stirling Players from putting on a stellar show. Despite a flooding incident at Stirling Theatre that saw opening night cancelled, Into The Woods is now full steam ahead and entertaining local audiences.
Into The Woods is a Sondheim musical that speculates what happens to fairytale characters after they get their ‘happily ever after’. It addresses themes including greed, parenthood, and being careful what you wish for. The first act seems to wrap up the storylines neatly with every character getting their heart’s desire - and indeed the junior version of the script used by school productions stops at this point; however Act II revisits the characters in their new circumstances and things seem to unravel quickly from there.
Director Kimberley Shaw has put together an amazing cast that have wonderful chemistry and under her direction they display a great sense of comedic timing. Exemplary of these qualities are the baker and his wife played by Tadhg Lawrence and Maree Cole, who make for a lovely pair of protagonists.
Grace Johnson plays a wonderfully savvy and determined Cinderella, perfect for this version of the story where things don’t completely go according to plan. She has a beautiful voice that is well utilised in this role.
Madeleine Shaw shines as Little Red Riding Hood, she gives the character an endearing youthful cheekiness, and she certainly shows that she has a powerful set of lungs!
Rp van der Westhuizen excels as Jack (of ‘and the Beanstalk’ fame), his facial expressions were unfaltering throughout, he was a stand-out for me in this production. He and his mother (Donna-Maree Gavin) bounced off each other very well - her exasperation with him was palpable.
The stage at Stirling Theatre was transformed into the dark and mysterious woods with wooden panelling and cascading steps surrounded by fallen leaves, giving a cosy and warm story-telling vibe. The creative screening that allowed Cinderella’s mother to appear like a ghostly vision in a tree was an excellent decision that added to the picture-book feel of the staging. Combined with the use of dramatic lighting to differentiate between day and night and indicate the presence of danger and magic, the illusion created allows viewers to get swept up in the fantasy.
In terms of prop design, it would be amiss not to mention Milky White, the cow with wheels for feet and a handle in it’s back that allowed for some hilarious and very practical maneuvering. Between this and Cinderella’s avian friends being lowered and raised on strings, the overall effect breaks the suspension of disbelief in a comedic way that had audience members laughing loudly, supporting the message that fairytales are often a little bit too convenient and that the audience is well aware of the ‘magic’ at play.
The costuming was well curated to represent a traditional time with some modern touches that keep the production grounded in today.
There were some minor sound issues with microphones and some false starts from cast members eager to jump back into the song, and at times the music and the vocals didn’t seem to quite sit into each other which made it a bit difficult to follow the momentum of the music. Aside from this the band sounded great.
Stirling Players have put together a highly amusing and joyous production of Into The Woods. Despite it’s surprisingly dark themes it offers a light-hearted reprieve from the gloomy nature of current events - a simply enchanting night at the theatre.