INTO THE WOODS
Witham Music Theatre at the Public Hall
Witham Music Theatre have made something of a specialism of Sondheim's witty, wordy, intelligent entertainments.
On this showing, my only regret is that I've not seen their earlier work. An accomplished young cast made a really professional job of this tricky score, in a production, directed by Philippa Johnson, which used a simple, stylish staging to let Sondheim's moral fairy tale speak for itself.
Black and white line drawings on screens, Pienkowskiesque silhouettes for the tree, climbable hair for Rapunzel, massive specs the only evidence of the Giant.
Very much a family affair, it would seem: patriarch Lewis Marks [Philippa's husband, if I understand aright] making a fine narrator, all from memory, though sometimes not well lit. Luke Marks was a hairy, lairy Wolf, as well as Rapunzel's Prince, while Jacob was Cinderella's Prince – the pair of them duetted brilliantly in Agony, with matching boots, beards, hobby-horses and princely habiliments. Samuel was an engagingly innocent Jack, with his long auburn hair and “sunny disposition”, and Joshua was his cud-chewing Milky White, giving the best “death of a fairy-tale cow” you're likely to see on any stage.
Grace Branch was a wonderful Little Red Riding Hood, “pink and plump”, and Jennifer Branch a powerful Witch, especially after her elegant transformation. She sang her solos with passion and polish.
The Mysterious Man is a difficult role to carry off, and I wasn't entirely convinced by Matt Ashworth's white-clad joker; Zoe Rogers was excellent as Cinderella, and Thomas Holland made a touching Baker, with Matilda Bourne as his wife.
But not a weak link in this large cast - I can only imagine the work that must have gone in to bringing this challenging piece to life. The sympathetically amplified singing was superb, as was the pit band, under the Musical Direction of Hans Montanana.
I loved last year's innovative production in Regent's Park, and was prepared to make allowances for this local amateur version. Absolutely no need – just as enjoyable, and in many ways more immediate, more affecting for being home-grown and made with love.