If you thought Infinity War was the most ambitious crossover in history, you were wrong. Stephen Sondheim took the title in the 1980s with Into the Woods, a crossover between the fairy tales of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. If you ever wanted as a child to see Little Red Riding Hood meet Jack in the Beanstalk, now’s your chance, although this musical is not entirely child-friendly.
Into the Woods marks the first production of the new Little Red Dot theatre company. As first productions go, it is rather a jump into the deep end. Sondheim is challenging enough for a long-established company, let alone a new company of students putting together the entire show in 7 weeks, in summer term no less.
Nevertheless, it is a tale carefully told. The story is so complex that all I will say is that a baker and his wife (played by Sam Gilliat and Annie Thorpe) have been cursed with childlessness by a witch (who has so many complaints about her neighbours I think she should consider downsizing to a more isolated location) and this sets the plot in motion with twists and turns and unintended consequences galore. Rebecca Storey’s direction uses the limited space of the John Cooper Studio Theatre efficiently and Tilly Fallows and Frankie Ali are to be commended for their organised stage management in the face of a large cast of characters and multiple interweaving plot threads.
All of the cast give convincing and believable performances, in particular Ashleigh Thomson as a delightfully petulant Little Red Riding Hood and Mike Hillesdon as the chipper and scatter-brained Jack. The way he drags his cow around by the back end is oddly hilarious. Oliver Basford nails his role as an obstructive and self-important steward, resulting in much laughter from the audience. Scarlett Simmons as Jack’s mother has perfect timing and a knack for physical comedy, deftly wielding her beloved slotted spoon. Megan Dawes chose her costume perfectly, with an excellent pair of massive spectacles. Molly Moran as the Witch had arguably the most challenging part in the show and would probably have received a standing ovation were it not too hot to move. The story is heart-warming if frequently strange, and the darkest parts of the show are often the funniest. If you love puns, Sondheim, and Sondheim’s puns, this show delivers. There were one or two fluffed lines, but these were handled excellently and only made the story funnier.
The one hitch in the otherwise splendid performance is the acoustics. Sondheim’s score is naturally loud and the orchestra features two horns, a bassoon, a trumpet and a double bass. The music itself is well played under the direction of Joshua Griffith and Corey Gerrard, and the quieter songs and long notes are clearly audible, but the faster songs can get slightly lost under the weight of the score, though not to the detriment of the overall story.
The journey into the woods is quite literal, as the auditorium can only be accessed through the stage, which allows the beautifully designed set to be admired more closely. Before you take your journey into the woods though, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, the show itself is two and a half hours. There is a twenty minute interval and no, the company do not forget about it, Act One really is just that long. Bring along a pound or two for the interval’s refreshments which are excellent value for money. John Cooper Studio also gets very warm, so dress coolly and stay hydrated.
Little Red Dot Presents ‘Into The Woods’ continues to run until Saturday night. For more information and to find out how to get tickets, click here.