Music: Stephen Sondheim
Book: James Lapine
Director: Matt Gould
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s romp through the fairytale forest of our childhood stories (and the universal desires and disappointments of life) is an ambitious one. Ambitious for a large scale, big budget production, and even more so for SEDOS, a London-based company who are ostensibly amateur but noted for putting on professional-level shows.
But they’ve pulled it off at the Bridewell Theatre, which is given more depth and texture than you’ve ever seen courtesy of a vast, twisting set of trees and grassy paths and wooden walkways. This, along with a fantastic orchestra led by Ryan Macaulay, and incredibly solid direction and choreography, are the details that elevate it from other amateur and short run productions into the realm of quality fringe.
There are also some excellent performances. Lotte Gilmour is a sweet-faced, petite Little Red Ridinghood who is strong and consistent throughout, delivering some of the sweetest and funniest moments. Kara McLean is delightfully natural, funny and sincere as The Baker’s Wife, with a clear and effortless vocal performance, and Cinderella’s (Amanda Stewart) pure Disney princess chirpiness and lightness of movement makes it hard to believe we haven’t had an Enchanted moment and stolen one from the animated world.
The two handsome Princes (Chris Warner and Sam Harrison-Baker) enjoy some of the funniest and most relaxed moments of the show with their number Agony and its reprise; Chris McGuigan is a strong and gutsy Jack, with another voice you’re always pleased to hear, and Hettie Hobbs and Sarah Shephard are both vocal highlights with brief but shimmering turns as Rapunzel and Cinderella’s mother. Emily Sidonie Grossman makes a sharp, funny and pleasantly twitchy Witch, though she’s better in her Act One hag incarnation.
As for the show itself you’ll either love or hate the usual Sondheim indulgences – that pitter-patter of rhythmic speech, the lyrical repetition, the brisk, discordant score, the too-clever-by-half jokes that are sometimes thrown away in their haste. There’s a lot of silliness and a lot of profound stuff in there, so how it hits you will probably depend on your mood (and the stuffiness in the rather warm Bridewell studio). Act Two – the material, not this production – also becomes a bit of a snooze around the last two or three numbers, when you may be tempted to get on TFL and idly plan your route home. But Into The Woods is an impressive show, if not one that nudges you right in the heart, and SEDOS’ cast and director have created a slick, pacey piece of musical theatre with just the right amount of cheek and spirit. It’s not often on in London, so grab a ticket and get acquainted with this cult Sondheim show.
Runs until 12 April |Photo David Ovenden