Theatre Review: Into the Woods

(c) Keith Stanbury

(c) Keith Stanbury

When my middle daughter heard that I’d been invited to review “Into the Woods” as part of the Everyman Cardiff Open Air Theatre festival, she was very excited, telling me that she’d seen it on YouTube and thought it was amazing. Not being familiar with the musical, I was very excited to hear this, but now I strongly suspect that she is the target audience and I’m not, because I’m afraid I didn’t share her opinion.

When the show started, the one word that sprang to mind was “perky” and it was. Terribly, terribly perky, in that “let’s do the show right here!” kind of way. I love musicals but this was a bit much, even for me. However, it settled down a little after that and I started to get a feel for the strengths of the performance – and there were a lot of them.

The songs are clearly technically very difficult to sing, yet there wasn’t a single cast member who didn’t make it seem effortless. The standout vocally for me was Rapunzel (Giaccolina Crothers), who also had an impeccable sense of comic timing. Her tears over the blinded prince had the audience crying with laughter.

(c) Keith Stanbury

(c) Keith Stanbury

But the characters who really carried the show were the villains, as is so often the way. They were the most interesting, the most entertaining and the most amusing, especially my personal favourite, the Witch, played by Jo Herco-Thomas. Having just come from a week running workshops based around Grimm’s Fairy Tales, it was fascinating seeing how true to the original, somewhat gory, stories the show was, although I’m not convinced that all aspects were meant to be as hilarious as the audience found them.

There were moments when lines were delivered ironically, which I think is really the only way to handle them for a modern audience, and there were some lovely touches, such as Red Riding Hood (Darcy Welch)’s wonderfully indignant skipping. When Rapunzel’s hair got caught on the set, the Baker’s Wife (Laura Phillips)’s improvised call of “I’ll get that for you, love!” had us all in stitches. Yet for all that, the show fell flat for me because there was only so much you could do with the source material.

And therein lay the problem. The first half was effectively a complete story, with the second half feeling like it was tagged on just for the delight of killing off half the cast in multiple tragedies of Shakespearean proportions. Thematically, it delved further into the concept of being careful what you wish for, a perennial theme in fairy tales, but there simply wasn’t any need to drag things out as long as they were. What’s more, the evil characters had been the most interesting, but having either killed or disempowered them all in the first half, the second half suffered for a lack of them and the giant didn’t really have the personality to fill the gap.

So overall, I’d say that if you’re a fan of Stephen Sondheim, go and see the show. You’ll love it. The execution and staging is flawless and it’s a fantastic ensemble cast with everyone perfect for their role. If you’re like me and “Into the Woods” isn’t your kind of thing, then I’d suggest booking tickets for one of the other shows in the festival, because if the quality’s anything like this one, they’ll be well worth a watch.

With thanks to the Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival for the complimentary ticket in exchange for an honest review.