INTO THE WOODSL.A.D.S. at The Tractor Shed
A good summer for Sondheim. Sunday in the Park with George from NYMT earlier this month, Follies at the National next week. And out at Latchingdon, my seventh Into the Woods, staged for the first and probably only time in a barn, with vintage tractors lining the stalls.
It's a popular show with amateur groups, despite the challenges presented by the staging and the score. A further challenge here was the absence of an MD to conduct – the accompaniment is karaoke style, which, to my surprise, works well, even for Sondheim. Though it has to be said that balance and acoustics conspired to rob us of some of his lovely lyrics.
The design had a charmingly naïve simplicity – trees were carried on and off, the birds were suspended from a stick, Granny's little cottage acted cleverly as a screen to spare us the worst of the Wolf's depredations. The garlands of flowers extended onto the apron, a useful acting area where the orchestra pit might have been.
Carole Hart's production combined music and movement to excellent effect, especially in Act Two, where numbers like No One Is Alone and Children Will Listen had a huge emotional impact. The Giant was well suggested by heavy footsteps and falling leaves, the beans by firecrackers. The choreography was by Aimee Hart, who also made a splendid Witch, hook-nosed before her transformation, strikingly elegant thereafter.
Many more first class performances: a lovely Baker's Wife from Carol Richardson, letting her hair down for a tumble with her Prince in the woods, her Baker Matthew Bacon, very strong in the “No More” sequence, Ben Braden's sunny Jack, Yasmin Lisa Sharp's Cinders, Freya Brown's Little Red Riding Hood [“I Know Things Now” very nicely done] and Tasha Gooderham's Rapunzel. There was a good deal of doubling – Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf, as is the custom [an impressive Adam Hart], but less usually Scarlette McSean gave us both Snow White and a particularly emaciated Milky White, and Rapunzel's Prince [Jacob Dawes] was given a Wolf of his own, plus Three Little Pigs as his prey. Notable contributions too from Daniel Tunbridge – striped blazer, panama – as the Narrator, Judi Embling as the wicked Stepmother, and Robin Warnes as a Chekhovian Mysterious Man.
A thought-provoking mix of fairytales – the Grimm and the gory never far away – the ending especially moving, with the stage peopled by the quick and the dead, a stylishly simple routine ending with everyone turning upstage, save for that one wistful “I wish”.