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Into The Woods at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Published by: Cameron Lowe on 10th Jun 2016 | View all blogs by Cameron Lowe

Review by James McShane

Billed as the first major artistic collaboration between Opera North and West Yorkshire Playhouse, director James Brining delivers an accomplished production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, with solid performances across the board from Opera North's talented cast.

The first act of Into the Woods sees Sondheim cleverly interweave the events of classic fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel) with the original tale of the Baker and his wife seeking to break his family's curse. Inevitably much of the action happens off stage, and the narrative gets a little jerky at times as a result - still it is on the whole effectively done, and comes to a satisfying "happily ever after" style conclusion for all the heroes.

Happily, that is, until act 2, when the perfect fairy tale ending is shattered when the consequences of their actions catch up with them, and the characters get a dose of reality, death and betrayal. It is an interesting idea, but it lacks the coherence of the first half, and the show ends a little weaker than it begins.

To Brining's credit, he handles the transition much better than the recent film version (starring Meryl Streep). The stage direction in particular is strong - we begin in a school classroom where fairytales are told by the narrator (brilliantly played by Nicholas Butterfield) and are gradually drawn in to the woods as the mood and the setting grow darker and more realistic.

It's not all darkness of course - there is laughter, too, in the Woods. David Llewellyn delivers a memorable turn as the sleazy Big Bad Wolf, before being skinned by Rachel J. Mosley's hilariously violent Granny. Gordon D. Shaw's comic delivery as the angry Scottish Steward was excellent. Cinderella's step-family (Garrick Forbes, Miranda Bevin, Cordelia Fish, Anna Barry) are laughably tacky and dysfunctional. And of course, the ridiculously macho and melodramatic "Agony" by the two princes (Dean Robinson and Warren Gilespie) is one of the musical highlights.

In fact, the entire cast are to be commended on their performances. Claire Pascoe does justice to the challenging role of the Witch. Gillene Butterfield is a charming Cinderella. The Baker and his wife (Dean Robinson and Louise Collett) provide polished vocals. The "children" of Helen √Čvora (Red Riding Hood) and Nicholas Watts (Jack) are comfortable in their roles. Rapunzel's innocence and misfortune is captured admirably by Amy Freston. Even the minor roles of the Mysterious Man (Jeremy Peaker) and Jack's mother (Hazel Croft) are notably well played.

For all the show's flaws, it is still thoughtful and engaging. If you want to see it done right, skip the film and see Opera North's production at West Yorkshire theatre.

Book Tickets

Into The Woods

West Yorkshire Playhoue (Quarry Theatre)

Until 25 June

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