Once upon a time, there was a musical called Into the Woods, based on a Tony award-winning book by James Lapine, which first hit Broadway in 1987. Re-imaging fairytale characters for modern times, the play scrutinised the reality of those happily ever afters and posed the question – is what you wish for, what you really want?
Currently on a three-day run in Newcastle – Into the Woods has landed on stage at the stunning Tyne Theatre & Opera House. We check out the performance on its opening night…
Into the Woods centres on the Baker and his wife, as they try to fulfil their wish of having a child by breaking a curse beset upon their house by The Witch. (This isn’t your typical wicked witch by the way; she even describes herself as not good, not nice, but ‘just right’.)
Heading into the forest to retrieve a series of items summoned by The Witch – including a red cloak, white cow, golden slipper and yellow hair – the couple’s quest becomes intertwined with the ongoing quandaries faced by other fairytale favourites including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood.
As everyone grapples with their pursuit for a happily ever after, unexpected and disastrous consequences soon unravel…
Performed by Tyne Theatre Productions – this volunteer-led amateur group has presented productions of West Side Story and Sweeney Todd in recent years. The group organises fundraising musicals twice a year and Into the Woods is its first of 2018, with much-needed funds contributing to the preservation and future restoration of the Grade 1 listed Victorian Opera House. Nice to know that as an audience member, you can do your bit towards the upkeep of this stunning venue.
The troupe is a small one at that, with a few of the cast members doubling up on roles. Stand out performances on the night included Lucy Sutton as the unflinching Witch – from her terrific opening rap to the all-out drama of Last Midnight; and Sarah Wales as The Baker’s Wife, who carried some of the key scenes of the musical with such presence and candor. Bridget Marsh’s take on Cinderella is also worth a mention, delivering solid vocals.
The show is a lengthy one – with act one lasting an hour and a half, and act two another hour. It should therefore come as no surprise to hear that there’s 21 musical numbers in all, originally penned by Stephen Sondheim.
The prologue between the different characters sets the scene and reveals their all-important desires, which play a pivotal role as the story progresses.
Vocals were at times a little pitchy, but overall the cast delivered a strong performance tempered with enthusiasm. The group finale of Children Will Listen was a particular highlight.
The set is pared back, using minimal props, with the majority of the action taking place in (yep, you guessed it) the depths of the woods. But with such a frenetic performance that sees solos and duets aplenty, as well as a giant bellowing from the distance and a criss-cross of characters bundling across the stage, an elaborate set simply isn’t necessary. The lone tree is sufficient, with Rapunzel’s tower making an appearance, too.
The costumes take on a fabulous steampunk look, with an eclectic wardrobe of corsets, leather trousers and even brass goggles, all taking inspiration from Victorian industrial steam-powered machinery. Think of films like Van Helsing, Wild Wild West and the Sherlock Holmes reboot and you’ll get an idea of the vibe they’re going for.
A dark story in parts – Into the Woods certainly takes the sugary gloss off those fairytale classics you’ll have grown up with; profiling uglier traits of revenge, temptation and greed.
But having said that, the show is also punctuated with moments of humour – the sheer presence of cow Milky White being heaved across the stage demanded something of a giggle.
At times, I felt like I was peering into a convoluted and ever escalating story that could only lead to misfortune and stark awakenings for the characters involved. And it was quite a journey to watch unfold, with the cast’s heady mix of dramatic performances and punchy vocals taking the audience on an enthralling foray into the forest with them.
Just be careful what you wish for when the curtain falls…
Into the Woods runs until Saturday 10 March 2018. For tickets visit tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk.
Images: Signature Times Photography
*Newcastle Sparkles received complimentary tickets to the show for review purposes