Performed by CYGAMS at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford, Thursday 14th April 2016
Director – Jimmy Hooper, Musical Director Bryan Cass
Into the Woods is a complex conflation of children’s fairy stories cleverly crafted into a rather dark cohesive whole. Figuratively speaking this show is like a fine Bordeaux rather than a Champagne; it is intense, full of flavour and with a long-lasting after taste. Bubbly, light and bright, providing instant gratification – it is not. This is a show that requires concentration that is worth the effort. With a witch’s curse at it’s black heart this show taps into so many basic emotions and then flips them on their heads. For every superficial feeling of love, friendship, loyalty and innocence there is a deeper undercurrent of lust, hatred, betrayal and guilt. Of course, the unleashing of these darker forces is the fault of the woods but we know better; this is the human condition, made palatable by fairy tale characters, wonderfully played by the cast of CYGAMS. This is not to say that Into the Woods lacked wit; despite the overall tenor of the piece being on the shadowy side there were some laugh out loud moments. I loved the line about “the end justifies the beans”. The choreography and tableaus were also extremely inventive and stylish given lack of space.
The setting for this production was superb given the space constraints. The tower, the trees and rocks had texture and solidity while the creation of a beanstalk using camouflaged umbrellas was a lovely piece of theatre. Great lighting and a very tight sound track for dozens and dozens of sound effects was very well done. The costumes too were just spot on; they were a good mixture of stage fairy tale, pantomime and even a hint of steampunk. The witch’s mask, costume and sticks were a particular triumph and Katie Salter did full justice to her role with a lovely nuanced performance. Eve French displayed great intelligence interpreting her part as The Baker’s Wife and Jack Martyn was wonderfully consistent as the earnest and mostly honest Baker. Lois Chapman had an effortless voice, verging on operatic, as Cinderella; and the two princes, Matt Barnes and Jack Harlock, while both combining masculinity with narcissism, reveled in Agony. Jessica Higgins was a delightful Little Red Riding Hood whose transition from outwardly cute and dutiful grand-daughter to knife-wielding teen with attitude was worryingly slick. Paul French as Jack was endearment personified, which made his alter ego as the giant-killing slayer even more intriguing. Sam Wolstenholme was a well modulated and engaging Narrator while Harry Brown, the Mysterious Man, drew back the veil when he let us hear his excellent singing voice. All the supporting roles did well, with too many to mention by name. In fact, there was something to do for all 28 cast members despite the traditionally restricted cast size.
I have seen many Sondheim shows over the years, performed in one (A Funny Thing ….Forum) and can generally take them or leave them but this production not only delivered its macabre message but did so in a way that was comprehensible, entertaining and without compromising production values. This was a great credit to Jimmy Hooper’s formal directing debut with CYGAMS as well as the entire cast and production team.
Reviewer – Stewart Adkins
Regional representative, District 8