More than just a happy ever after

13 March 2008

Into the Woods, ADC Theatre, 11-22nd March, 19:45

Reviewer Jenny Kenyon

Four Stars

I wish this term would end. I wish I didn’t have a cold. And I wish more Cambridge musicals were like Into The Woods.

Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzal, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Baker and his Wife: Into the Woods is a medley of stories and characters we recognise and know, or think we know. Don’t think it stops at the Happily Ever After: Into the Woods plunges on past the happy ending, giving us darkness and agony, comedy and uncertainty. It’s not an easy musical to put on but director Freddie Hutchins has pulled it off with something of a flourish, generally successfully negotiating the way off the mainstream musical path towards the depths of pastiche.

Matt Eberhardt and Mel Heslop as the Baker and his wife were little short of outstanding – as singers and actors – giving bold, entertaining characterisations, working generously as a pair and playing the audience with skill. But they weren’t the only ones: Tempe Nell as the witch was equally consistently enjoyable and her song was positively spine-tingling. The two princes (Ed Stephenson and Ned Stuart-Smith), far from “Agony”, were hilarious and should dispel their tentativeness and bring more confidence to a pair of very compelling performances.

A few were certainly not made enough of: Lowri Amies can definitely play more than an old woman and deserved far more than she got. Similarly Belinda Sherlock shone as Rapunzal, from the tip of her hair to the top of the stage, making something engaging and heartfelt out of virtually nothing in the script.

Other individual performances weren’t pushed as far as they needed to go: Charlotte Langley’s Cinderella and Jack Joseph’s Wolf were a little too natural and so a little flat. They could afford to let loose and stray off the path. Saying that, though, together the cast were fantastic, very impressive musically and showing good support for one another.

The technical elements matched the acting, with a stunning design of library-cum-forest. Eye catching, ambitious but most importantly practical, Becky Homer is the most exciting and talented production designer in Cambridge. The music was also wonderfully integrated and Musical Director Luke Rogers and his musicians dealt skilfully with a complicated score. The only disappointment was the lighting, which certainly didn’t compliment everything else happening on stage. With more late cues than laughs from the audience (and there were plenty of those) and actors too often only partly illuminated, it seemed half plotted and shoddily executed.

On the whole, though, you couldn’t ask much more from a Cambridge musical, and you should definitely go out of your way and off the path to see Into the Woods.