This review was written prior to the E.U. Referendum vote
With the UK teetering on the edge of an E.U Brexit, the superb opening night of Everyman’s production of ‘Into the woods’ seemed almost prophetic: ‘be careful what you wish for’.
Set in the leafy grounds of Sophia Gardens, Cardiff Everyman have created a little haven for enjoying six pieces of outdoor theatre productions this summer. The opening night of the summer line up saw Stephen Sondheim’s notoriously wordy and complex piece brought to life by the energetic ensemble cast.
Those unfamiliar with the plot will see many familiar characters from Western fairy tales: Cindarella, charming princes, an evil witch, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and his magic beans and the big bad wolf. Richard Tunley’s direction and Rob Thorne’s dramatic musical arrangement brings the piece to life via a live band tucked beyond the stage. There are whimsical and bohemian touches to the set, dashing costumes and beautiful puppetry (milky the cow and those pigeons…watch your eyes!). Audiences are taken on an extended musical romp through a tangled but hilarious set of interweaving stories – with a very modern twist. Little Red Riding Hood (played by the fantastic Darcy Welch) now has an attitude – and a knife – and she’s not afraid to use it!, Cindarella’s really not that bothered about the prince and the faithful baker’s wife who wants a baby has a ‘moment of madness’ in the forest with the prince.
Sondheim’s tongue-in-cheek take at the underlying sexism, cheesiness and saccharine plots of our well-known fairy tales is a thing of brilliance. There are some pantomime moments too – an added aside to the audience, a knowing look, in jokes, a moment when Rapunzel (Giaccolina Crothers) got her plait stuck in the branches of the set and the baker’s wife (Laura Phillips) doesn’t miss a beat, dashing across the stage shouting ‘I’ll help you, love!’. There are also deeper undercurrents at work here though – and we see the subtleties at work via Rapunzel and Jack’s struggle for independence from their over bearing parents (‘If you love them…you have to let go…’) and with the grass always being greener on the other side. The prince gets his woman, but even he is bored by the princess…the baker and his wife find life with a baby isn’t all that romantic!
With all the unpredictabilities of staging an outdoor theatre festival (in Wales!) Everyman has all bases covered. The audience seating area is covered, the sound and music was good – despite some police sirens and late-night revellers passing by. The weather mercifully held off. The stripped down aspect, the breeze and the general mood is just right and Everyman seems to have thought of everything, from renting blankets to keep the evening chill at bay, to Dusty Knuckle Pizza and Otley beers in the pretty, lantern-lit area outside. It is exceedingly pleasant and a little sanctuary from the surrounding city.
As darkness descends and we get into the second half after the interval, the set and surrounding trees around the outdoor venue are beautifully lit. There are some stand out moments for me, the macho squaring up of the two princes during the ‘agony’ song (with great comic execution by Lewis Cook and Tom Elliot), James Rockey’s gormless portrayal of Jack and his zero-to-hero transformation and those terrible sisters and their dark (but funny) comeuppance.
The show was epic in every sense – the length and the spectacle. Just following and listening and watching left me exhausted, there is a lot to see. But this production is stunning. I left with those dance sequences and riffs singing in my ears and beating in my heart.
Director: Richard Tunley
Musical Director: Rob Thorne Jnr
Stage Manager: Raynor Phinnemore
Production Designer Bethany Seddon
Costume Supervisor: Kelly Ellis
Wardrobe Mistress: Rosie Berry
Everyman Theatre Company, Cardiff.