“Into the woods, then out of the woods / And happy ever after!”
Go into Queen’s College, stroll through to the gardens and, for a few evenings in late May, you will find yourself a little wood. Here, the Eglesfield Musical Society’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods invites you to immerse yourself in a world of journeys, giants, beans and wishes.
Based on several of the Grimm brother’s fairy tales, Into The Woods opens with Cinderella wishing to go to the ball, Jack wishing for his cow to milk and Little Red Riding Hood wishing for bread to take to her grandmother. An original storyline thrusts a baker and his wife, cursed with childlessness by a witch, into the woods to break the spell. Their quest for “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold” causes their path to collide and intertwine with the other fairy tale characters in a tale of comedy and commotion. However the second act goes deeper and darker into the woods, and finds the traditional ‘happy ever after’ overshadowed by the dangers of wishing too much.
Queen’s gardens are certainly a beautiful spot for this production. With a huge tree twinkling with fairy lights arching over the stage, the outdoor setting will provide a striking contrast with the use of physical theatre, as the chorus provides a living and moving woods. Director Laura Day tells me that her production plays on the audience’s ability to imagine. In part they must “transport themselves” to a fairy tale world, but the gently fading evening light will provide the perfect backdrop to the characters’ unravelling stories as they venture further into the trees. Whilst contingency plans are in place, it will be a great shame if typical English weather forces this production inside: the garden space provides the cast of Into The Woods with some of their greatest challenges, yet promises a uniquely enchanting and magical setting.
Though this production has been quickly put together with only four weeks of rehearsals as of now, the cast looks reassuringly ready. One of the most musically challenging numbers ‘Your Fault’ promises a vocally strong performance, whilst a glimpse of a suitably shameless Prince Charming confidently captures the hilarity of Sondheim’s satirical caricatures. Particularly intriguing is the role of the wolf, which, in radical departure from Johnny Depp’s performance in the recent film version of the musical, will be played as a beguiling older woman.
The cast all agree that Into The Woods is a pretty weird show, but that’s not something they’re shying away from. With little Red Riding Hood decked out in 60s peddle-pushers, a Liverpudlian giant and a Milky White bicycle, this performance promises to take you on a playful, tongue-in-cheek adventure into the woods.
Into The Woods will be showing in Queen’s College gardens from the 20th to the 23rd of May, performing at 7.30pm.