Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, using the beginning of Rapunzel, in which the theft of some plants from a witch’s garden by a desperate man (Oliver Payn) forces him into a deal with the witch, as the main link. In the musical, the couple’s son, a baker (Darren Walls) and his wife (Justyne Snyder) make their own deal with the witch (Maaike Hillen) in order to have a child, a deal which will lead him to interact with characters and events from “Little Red Riding Hood” (Missy Hingley, with Andrew Lodge as the Wolf / Lucinda and Bo Gourley as Granny / Narrator), “Cinderella” (Fiona Dawson, with Joe Gill as the Prince, Heather Richardson as the Stepmother, Shannon Scott as Florinda and Aric Hanscomb Ryrie as the Dad/Narrator) “Jack and the Beanstalk” (Orla Bayne, with Clarice Bruch as Milky White and Fiona Wilson as Jack’s Mum), “Rapunzel” (Laura Preston, with Hannah McGregor as her Prince and Kirsty Allan as Steward / Narrator), amongst others.
Most of this occurs in the first act, culminating in a seeming happy ending for all. Apparently, many audience members therefore think the intermission signals the end of the show, a confusion this production circumvents by having several characters make it explicitly clear to the audience that a second half will follow in fifteen minutes. This later Act continues the previous storylines in a mostly original direction, dealing with the consequences of these whirlwind romances, deals with the devil (well, a witch) and giant murders.
Though the show is a staple of musical theatre repertoire, this post-modern mash-up structure is undoubtedly ambitious on a lower budget: you could see roughly three Fringe shows in the time it takes all these characters to get in and out of the Woods, and none of them require a giant in their climax. And this production, directed by Roza Stevenson, makes some interesting choices to get round its limitations, including with the use of an H-shaped stage with some of the action at one end, a traverse-style catwalk in the middle, and the other end most notably used for Rapunzel’s tower. Though this all but guarantees every audience member will have a sight-line problem at one point or another, it is definitely immersive, with vegetation garlands which meet the audience at the door and follow them to their seats.
Though the show’s unwieldly structure is a challenge most productions struggle with, and most audience members might know about going in, bright spots such as Maaike Hillen and Joe Gill’s performances keep things going at a good clip, while the show gets the most out of its human cow Clarice Bruch’s physical comedy, making the silent role in a musical into one of its most distinctive parts. Though I wouldn’t have complained if she had been given Jack’s plaintive “I Guess This Is Goodbye” to sing in heart-wrenching “mooos”.
Into The Woods is running at Edinburgh College until the 18th June. Tickets can be found at: www.fienta.com/into-the-woods
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 16th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: