If you go to see Into The Woods at the Landor Theatre, you won’t be in for a big surprise - rather an underwhelming production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical. This is unfortunate given that there are some excellent performances. But, ultimately, Robert McWhir’s inconsistent direction leaves one feeling cold after a rather long evening at the theatre.
Into The Woods takes the well-known fairytales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk and turns them on their heads in order to raise some pertinent questions, particularly on the subject of morality.
The story centres on a Baker and his wife who have been cursed by an evil Witch. As they battle to overturn this curse, they cross paths with each fairytale character, resulting in all of them facing the Giant’s wife who Jack has upset by killing her husband. Hence, each character has to take responsibility for their actions with the Baker finally accepting his role as a father of his newborn child. As Sondheim and Lapine say, “Careful the things you say, children will listen.”
There is no doubt that this is a complicated piece of musical theatre to get right, despite the apparent simplicity of the fairytales it’s based on. With many characters to direct and limited space to work with, there are points at which Robert McWhir’s production comes together. However, the characterisation is inconsistent. Little Red Riding Hood (played by Rebecca Wicking), the Witch (Lori Haley Fox) and Cinderella’s Prince (Ryan Forde Iosco) don’t appear to be on the same page as the other actors with performances which feel forced.
The Baker (Leo Andrew) and his wife (Sarah Head) are, on the other hand, totally believable and give strong, poignant portrayals. Amongst the rest of the cast, Cinderella (Sue Appleby), Jack’s Mother (Tricia Deighton), Rapunzel (Jenny Perry) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Luke Fredericks) find a good balance, with some fine comic touches.
The neat set by Nina Morley is based on a shelf of fairytale books and, overall, supports the action with actors moving in and out, ably supported by two onstage helpers (Andrew Keates and Frank Simms). Morley’s costumes, however, are less effective, particularly the Witch’s first outfit which is incongruous next to the traditional fairytale dress worn by other characters. Good use of projection adds to Richard Lambert’s effective lighting design.
The cast give their all to this production but the overall result is unconvincing. With the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre embarking on their own production next year, it will be interesting to see how they handle the intricacies of this complicated piece.