Play: Into The Woods

Performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and directed by Matthew Xia. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine

Into The Woods was a tapestry of  well known fairytales, woven into a single ‘Once upon a Time ‘ story where hopes and wishes came true- but only for the first Act. As it continued past the interval, it seemed that getting your heart’s desire did not turn out to be all that was wished for and happy ever after went astray. I loved it. 

As the story goes, once upon a time, Cinderella, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel were all in the forest, all on their own journeys. Their paths crossed with the Baker and his wife and the witch. Watching the play, it seemed that good and bad, selfishness and selflessness existed in different measures in both of the characters. The Baker and his wife had been cursed with childlessness. On the promise of the witch, that she would lift the curse if they brought her certain objects, i.e.  a red cloak, cornflower yellow hair, a golden slipper and a milky-white cow,  they ventured into the woods, and into each of the fairy tales in turn.

The play had wit and humour, both in the lyrics and the score and also through elements of the staging. The audience applauded the emergence of Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf. The puppetry of the milky white cow was clever and effective. Having a live orchestra added to the production's dynamic feel.

The mood changed with the post modern world of Act 2, as the reality of living happily ever after came to light. The atmosphere darkened. The Giant, voiced by Maxine Peake, cast about indiscriminately over the little people below. I would say that even though the production was three hours in duration, the pace and energy never flagged. 

In short: a clever staging where adult life intruded into the fairy tale dream.


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