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Review: Into the Woods, Belvoir St Theatre/Hayes Theatre Company


All the fairytale magic one could ask for.

Into the Woods, the much-hyped co-production by stalwarts Belvoir St Theatre and Hayes Theatre Company, is a tour de force of song, dance, and classic children’s fairytales. With a mesmerising ensemble cast and surprises up the wazoo, the show begins fantastically. But a post-intermission lull leaves viewers pondering if the horse came too strongly out of the gate.

Esther Hannaford in Into the Woods. Photo credit Christopher Hayles.

Into the Woods brings together multiple fairytales to tell the story of Baker (Justin Smith) and his wife (Esther Hannaford). Cursed with infertility by the Witch (Tamsin Carroll), the two must steal the prized possessions of Jack (Marty Alyx), Little Red Riding Hood (Mo Lovegrove), Cinderella (Shubshri Kandiah), Rapunzel (Stefanie Caccamo) and more to have this curse lifted. This sets the tone for a tale about family, morality, and life’s various twists and turns, aptly narrated by Peter Carroll.

(L to R): Shubshri Kandiah, Justin Smith, Tamsin Carroll, Esther Hannaford & Marty Alix in Into the Woods. Photo credit Christopher Hayles.

Above all else, the strength of this show is its variety. Though this single plot keeps the musical moving, Stephen Sondheim‘s original script also fleshes out each fairy tale’s narrative. This gives each cast member both collective and individual moments to shine. The former is largely observed through musical numbers (courtesy Music Director Simon Holt), where the ensemble display an unbelievable slickness and chemistry as they interject, bicker, and tussle. The latter is presented through the multitude of characters each performer takes on. Carroll plays the Narrator, Cinderella’s Father, and Mysterious Man, for example, while Caccamo plays Rapunzel, Florinda and Riding Hood’s Granny. Of particular note here is Tim Draxl, who deftly portrays Cinderella’s playboy prince and a suave, Hugh Jackman-esque Wolf for Red Riding Hood. Additional props to Andrew Coshan, as Rapunzel’s faithful prince and the most glamorous Cinderella sister I’ve ever seen, and Tamsin Carroll, whose Witch is snarky, soaring, and a damn good singer.

Tim Draxl & Andrew Coshan in Into the Woods. Photo credit Christopher Hayles.

Such variety is also present in the props – an underrated part of the theatre world that needs to be lauded here. Into the Woods is full of surprises in this way, from skateboards, to cows, to shoes, to glitter – lots of glitter – decorating the stage. You never know what will come out of the cast’s pockets next. This makes for many a delightful shock, which in turn become some of the musical’s most memorable moments.

Marty Alix & Lena Cruz Into the Woods. Photo credit Christopher Hayles.

However, though such variety is present in the storytelling too, this brings less success. The musical’s first act is packed with songs, humour, and light-heartedness. It concludes with a neatly-wrapped ending, where Baker and his wife have their child, Rapunzel is freed from her tower, and the prince finds his Cinderella. The second act deviates from this sharply; now, the cast face off against the wife of the giant Jack killed. It is a character heard but not seen, with Pamela Rabe‘s voice booming across the performance space instead. This shift brings an intense conceptual redirection, with less song, more gloom, and an overwhelming amount of off-stage deaths.

Unfortunately, the audience has not developed a deep enough bond with these characters to be concerned over the second act’s moments. The idea of life going on is appreciable, but falls quite flat in this instance. A palpable reduction in the audience’s reception to the second act’s deaths, music and jokes indicates a rare misstep for director Eamon Flack, which makes the second act quite draggy.

Nevertheless, Into the Woods is a wonderful show that largely meets the hype. There is something for everyone in it, and it is a wonderful reintroduction to the delightful world of children’s fairytales. I sincerely hope we see more collaborations between these two theatre icons in future.

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