Written by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (of Sweeney Todd, Gypsy and West Side Story fame) Into the Woods has arrived at the Royal Exchange to cast a spell on Manchester audiences this Christmastime.
A dark and delicious melting pot of several much loved fairy tales; Into the Woods takes a look at the traditional and gives it a jolly good shake. Based on the story of a childless Baker and his wife who just so happen to live next door to a sinister Witch who put a curse on them to remain forever barren. The only way to break the curse is to venture out into the dark, mysterious woods and return with a milky white cow, a cape as red as blood, a lock of hair as gold as corn, and a golden slipper, thus intertwining the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella into the tale. The result of this blend of Grimms' Tales combined with the barren Bakers results in a production packed full of entertainment.
Designer Jenny Tiramani has created a magical kingdom, the smell of fresh pine trees wafts through the foyer as soon as you enter the space, inside the theatre is even more impressive with trees that grow before our eyes and enchanted birds who float down from the heavens to converse with Cinderella. Director Matthew Xia’s creativity is right at home in the unique setting of the Exchange, his cast use the space to its full potential, appearing and reappearing at various levels and entrances keeping the pace flowing and the audience totally engaged.
As our characters wander off the path into each other’s stories the brilliance of this cast is there for all to see. Royal Exchange regular Gillian Bevan makes for a fabulous Witch, her wit and comic timing is a delight, Baker Alex Gaumond and his wife Amy Ellen Richardson are excellent, with Richardson’s unexpected tryst with Cinderella’s Price, Michael Peavoy being one of the absolute laugh out loud highlights of the whole production. Peavoy making his third appearance at the Exchange (previously seen in Britannia Waves the Rules and Sweeny Todd) is fantastic, taking on two roles, firstly as the most scantily clad wolf you’re ever likely to see and secondly as the dandy but dim Cinderella’s Prince. There is no one in this cast who isn’t worthy of praise, the ensemble scenes are perfection with enchanting harmonies that’ll have you humming all the way home. The action slows a little towards the end of Act II with a slightly drawn out version of the song No One is Alone which left me wanting to get back to the good stuff, but thank fully musical director Sean Green and his awesome band soon whisk us away again and the pace returns.
Fun, feisty and totally fabulous, the Bah Humbug within me was banished for the night. Showing until Saturday 16th January, Into the Woods is a triumph which will completely captivate audiences this Christmas and leave them with one burning question…..How on earth did they do that Grandma’s House bed scene?