The Cockpit – until 24 June
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Tim McArthur’s 21st century take on Into The Woods is a delight, crammed with wit and wisdom, and performed by a ridiculously talented cast.
James Lapine’s book, with the characters from Perrault and the Brothers Grimm fairy tales discovering the harsh consequences of their wishes and actions, gets a British reality TV makeover. Jack and his mother (with show-stealing performances by Jamie O’Donnell and Madeline MacMahon) are straight from Jeremy Kyle – a Glaswegian teenaged mother clutching her can and her rollup, lurid pink thong on display and calling her thick son a wee shite; TOWIE looms large in Cinderella’s stepfamily, and the princes are narcissistic vacuous hoorays we see in Made In Chelsea. The Witch is an Irish bag lady, and Rapunzel’s eventual spiral into despair sees her become a coke fiend. Even the Narrator’s Geordie tones evoke Big Brother, but the evictions from the woods are a little more permanent and brutal.
Performed in the round, with the stage strewn with bark chips and the set wooden pallets and ladders, Tim McArthur’s staging is deceptively simple, with the intricacies only revealed in the ensemble numbers as the 17 cast members use expertly choreographed movement to circle the stage. Sondheim’s musical style isn’t for everyone, but he’s at his snarky lyrical best with these numbers. Florence Odumusu’s headphone wearing Red Riding Hood gives a deliciously petulant twist to I Know Things Now, and Abigail Carter-Simpson is divine as the social-climbing Cinderella experiencing severe buyer’s remorse. Tim McArthur and Jo Wickham are fantastic as the Baker and his Wife, with Wickham shining in Moments In The Woods. Michele Moran gives a powerhouse performance as the Witch – making Last Midnight a real showstopper in its emotional punch, but just as you’re recovering from that, along comes a glorious rendition of No One Is Alone, a song with the best moral message of any musical, and your bottom lip is trembling again.
There are a few technical issues with sound, making it hard to hear some of the funniest lyrics from the princes, but I am sure that these will be ironed out as the run continues. There are no issues with the band however, with musical director Aaron Clingham excelling yet again.
If you love Sondheim, then get to this show. All Star Productions have worked their magic yet again and created a joyous musical gem that will make you laugh, cry and be very careful what you wish for.