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Into The Woods – The Lowry, Salford

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Book: James Lapine

Director: Ben Occhipinti

Musical Director: Dan Swana

Reviewer: Helen Jones

[rating:4]

 

The Company is set up to offer young people between the ages of 13 and twenty three the opportunity to participate in musical theatre, whether on the stage, in a band or behind the scenes.

This year they have produced Stephen Sondheim’s wonderfully witty take on fairy tales – Into The Woods. The chorus appear first – as passengers awaiting a tube train. Dressed in monochromatic colours they take on every unnamed or background rôle as well as becoming parts of sets and also many of them acting as narrators throughout the plot.

As with many Sondheim musicals, the plot has more twists and turns than a Cornish country road, but the young cast carry off the complexities of the various rôles with style and panache.

Sammy Anderson is a sweet but indecisive Cinderella who spends rather a lot of her time running away from her prince (Chris Morgan). Unfortunately she always seems a little apart from the action which does slightly detract from her character. Both Chris Morgan and Andy Morgan (who plays the other Prince) have great singing voices and excellent stage presence. They also know just how much comedy to inject to make the rôles work without being so overplayed as to distract from their basic charms. The restless princes are a wonderful foil for each other and certain similarities between one of them and a current younger royal are played for laughs with skill.

Joshua Noon is a fine Baker and Rebecca Ridout is stunning as his feisty wife. Joshua Noon is suitably meek at the start of the show but nicely handles his character’s development, while Rebecca Ridout takes the rôle of the Baker’s Wife and makes it her own. She has a fine voice and is an excellent actor, meaning that she is one of the most endearing and appealing characters in the show.

Then we have Jack (Rupert Henderson) and his mother (Kathryn Hopkinson), the Witch (Kitty Murdoch) and the real scene stealer in Megan Gilbert’s Little Red Riding Hood. Henderson is a suitably dopey Jack, who despite saying that he is a man, is never grown up. Kitty Murdoch is superb, both in voice and acting ability. She has one of the strongest and best voices in the company and uses it to great success. Megan Gilbert beautifully portrays the rather gawky young woman of Little Red Riding Hood, swinging effortlessly between the more childish traits and the maturing woman in her character.

But characters are not the sweet personalities you remember from childhood stories, and their strange stories interweave with skill and humour making this one of Sondheim’s greatest musicals. While some characters remain as you would expect most are very different from the Hans Christien Anderson ideals. But it is this difference which makes this musical such fun.

Director Ben Occhipinta has worked with these young people and brought our a maturity of performance as good as any professional company. On Tom Paris’ simplistic set, these young men and woman are the central feature and given the talent on display, that is a position they fully deserve.

The Company have done a fine job with the young people involved, but more than that they have also brought Sondheim to a younger audience who might not have already had the chance to appreciate his skills, and that can never be a bad thing.

Runs until 11 August

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