An illustration of fairy tale characters from the musical Into The Woods
Credit: The Eglesfield Music Society

Into The Woods Review

Bouncing off the massive success of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee last year, The Eglesfield Music Society of The Queen’s College is back with its production of Into The Woods. A 1987 musical by Stephen Sondheim with a more recent 2014 film adaptation, Into The Woods is the charming and somewhat nostalgic story of a baker and his wife who try to break a witch’s curse by collecting four objects from some classic characters of the fairy tale kingdom.

Excellently managed by director I-Cenay Trim and producer Ben Gilchrist, the team for this production were confident, talented, and a true joy to watch. Despite the intriguing plot structure where the musical feels finished by the interval, the cast kept everyone completely engaged throughout. The strong sense of character from all the actors meant that it felt like everyone was playing a main role, each contributing something very valuable and unique to the story.

Producing a show outdoors presents many challenges for a production team, most of which were overcome in this instance. I found the staging to be particularly engaging with five different sections around the venue for cast members to traverse and four parts of the audience to direct lines to, which made for an entertaining set-up and can be credited to the stage designer Harry Brook. I must also credit Alexandra Hart for some fabulous choreography: it’s not something I usually notice in productions, but the dance scenes (including a lovely tap dance for the song ‘It Takes Two’) were beautiful and well-rehearsed.

As always with reviews, I face the difficult task of choosing a few of these amazing cast members to spotlight. Sam Phillips as Jack was definitely one of my favourites due to the skillful embodiment of his character. In his solo number ‘Giants In The Sky’, he sang beautifully amidst being lifted in the air and running about whilst still maintaining the vocal timbre that his character would have. His acting during dialogue scenes was heart-warming and passionate: he truly thrived in this role.

Emily Britto Davis was a great fit for Little Red Riding Hood with her lovely singing voice and charming delivery of lines. Alongside the very funny Joseph Baszczak as The Wolf, the pair made for some hilarious scenes and a great rendition of ‘Hello Little Girl’. I also really enjoyed Baszczak as Cinderella’s Prince, entering each time with the same level of drama on a toy horse with an obnoxious flair well suited to his role. His duet ‘Agony’ with the equally as charming Benjamin Watson as Rapunzel’s Prince was particularly memorable.

The fairly large cast also included many other confident and distinctive voices, which contributed to a very strong delivery of group numbers. Molly Jones as Cinderella had a suitably delicate and controlled voice to her character, and Sorcha Ní Mheachair played The Witch incredibly well with some rich, soaring vocal lines alongside her character’s assertive and intimidating demands.

Sondheim’s music for Into The Woods is distinctly repetitive, jaunty, and catchy, which the band captured well. Despite some moments falling noticeably out of sync, the fifteen-person orchestra provided a strong and enjoyable foundation for the cast. The band also contributed some snippets that added a nice flair to dialogue scenes, such as flautist Lou Newton’s lovely birdsong and percussionist Kush Melwani’s booming bass drum to represent the giant’s footsteps.

Unfortunately, issues with sound equipment were persistent. Crackles, pops, amplified wind and feedback could be heard throughout the whole show, and radio mic cues were frequently delayed alongside general cutting out. The balance between the cast and the band was not great in the first act, but improved in the second; however, audible and frequent adjustments to microphone levels meant that a character’s voice would change mid-speech, getting louder, spiking and then dropping back down. These persistent bits of unwanted sound were particularly noticeable during quiet moments or silence, such as between songs when page-turning and buzzing could be heard.

Despite these issues, the cast and band pushed through to produce an absolutely fantastic performance of Into the Woods. The sound mishaps were my only criticism, which gradually got better throughout and thus are likely to be resolved further in later shows. I can confirm that my cheeks hurt from smiling by the end with the charm and wit from this cast, and it was definitely a great way to spend my evening. I highly recommend grabbing a ticket while you can (and if you do, bring a coat as it gets quite cold!). A massive congratulations to all those involved in the production for a truly brilliant opening night, and best of luck with the remaining shows.