As the sun descended upon the set, previously lovely but a little bare, gloriously entwined with the trees yet sans any beanstalk motif, took on a new depth and spatiality. Now it was one with the story, the characters, the enthralling play – the whole thing blossoming in the darkness. In the second act, every element came together for a brilliant, bombastic finish, Sondheim’s ever darkly twinkling musical and the always excellent Everyman team.
The musical will always be a relevant one, but what I think makes it so durable, from when Bernadette Peter’s first blew onto the stage, to the gleefully ironic Disney adaptation, is that it warns of wishes whilst not mandating the often so elusive action. The tone is sublime, true and timeless. As we see the ordinary tales of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and The Beanstalk and more deconstructed for perhaps the first time in a mainstream way, the show will always be a looking glass for both the individual and the world around them. It has a perfect formula, which gives any players the odd situation of only being able to damn it with an almost impossible faintness, which Everyman most certainly did not.
The reliably brilliant atmosphere highlighted the dramatic tension, with the ensemble on brilliant form, and any kinks in what was the opening night were duly ironed out save one or two small problems with the mikes. The puppetry, which had been lovely but simplistic at the start, was utilised in a genuinely shocking and exciting moment, gone in a flash, the impact amazing.
One of the best to bloom through the show was Meredith Lewis’ Cinderella, with natural empathetic acting and a clear but tense voice always hanging on the edge of something, uncertain in crescendos. Her command of her vocals was probably always going to increase as the production went on, as the uncertainty of dreams turns into calloused but dependable reality.
To me, the true standout players had to be Laura Phillips, the Baker’s Wife. Her warmth, comedy and realism all made the ill fated woman perfectly likeable, her shadow looming over thus ever more painfully, and Darcy Welch, Little Red, who managed to blend the sweetness and tinge of childish cruelty in little red without either rendering the other implausible. The Wolf was the scene stealer he was meant to be, and he two princes were played with winning aplomb. Cinderella’s, played by Lewis Cook was perhaps the best, an undercurrent of whatever sincerity could be bred into such a prince making him less one note, the dominant individual ‘agonies’ of the play amplified by the smaller, subtler ones. The people that never had the chance to be a different version of themselves, the cruel prescriptiveness of the archetypal fairytale, it’s inevitable truth, and the mournful, glorious fact that no one is exempt from human fallibility.
A beautifully done production, the costume design as ever needs a mention.Whilst all costumes suited the production, the standout had to be the Witch’s hunched form, her apparent ugliness only truly shown in strangeness. The mask, meant for the furrowed lines of age, truly looked almost venetian, and her hair, odd, matted pink, again added a sense of false attributions, as she looked powerful, bizarre and captivating. The Witch herself was nice, was good…but, for those of you who know the booming song, not quite right. The acting and singing from Jo Herco Thomas were both lovely, but in a company with a baseline of brilliant talent her voice failed to dominate as her physical presence did, as she played both her anger and her tenderness a little too softly, never seeming committed to either. By no means a bad performance, it still seemed a little lukewarm for the iconic character.
This is a musical which will always retain its power. Both the overt and the quiet have their warnings reflected best when subtleties and set pieces bounce off one another. From the ambient tenseness to the beaming wit and of course Sondheim’s near perfectly written songs, this is a play for all to see if chance as in the play both our darkest and our finest magic, permits them.
Into the Woods
Everyman Theatre Sophia Gardens Cardiff
24th June – 2nd July
Book : James Lapine.
Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim.
Director: Jonathan Tunick.
Musical Director:: Rob Thorne.
Design: Bethany Seddon Stage Manager: Ranynore Phinnemore, Deputy Stage Manager: Dunyasha Barrow. Design Assistants- Rosie Motion, Dominic Page, Alison Sheppard, Kay Harry.
Puppet making: Bethany Page, Pascale Morrison-Derbyshire, Aimee Walting, Jen Callow
Band:Rob Thorne Jnr, Ray Dizon, Robin Hames, Jonathan Mainwaring, Simon Carter.
Costume and Makeup: Kelly Ellis, Rosie Berry, Michelle Cast: Laura Phillips, Matthew Preece, James Rockney, Darcy Welch, Meredith Lewis, Jo Herco-Thomas, Sarah Bawler, Daniel Ivor Jones and David Stephens.
Barker, Sophie Langford
Running Time: Just over two and a half hours.