STEPHEN Sondheim’s timelessly brilliant Into the Woods, interweaves various fairy tales into a spectacular story that goes on to delve into the psyches of the participants and follow them into the next stages of their lives.
It sets substantial challenges for musicians, singers, dancers and actors, not to mention set, costume and lighting designers. So what better choice for the students of Arts University Bournemouth and their now annual collaborators, Kokoro, the contemporary music ensemble of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra?
Katharine Piercey’s production, on stage at Poole’s Lighthouse, is a triumph for everyone concerned. It’s difficult to imagine a more accomplished reading of this complicated and dramatic show, which provided this group of graduating students – actors, costume and set designers, and back stage crew – with a sensational addition for the CV.
These are stories that I usually see as pantomimes – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood – but they are both Grimmer and more blackly funny. Sondheim’s fertile lyrical imagination and James Lapine’s book throws them into the mixing bowl and creates the rites of passage tale to cap them all.
The 19 performers, choreographed by Claire Camble Hutchins, bring the stories to exciting life, punctuated by some of Sondheim’s most immediately accessible music. With a professional ensemble like Kokoro in the pit, every nuance of the score is richly evident, but the young actors are not overwhelmed.
In such a strong company, it seems wrong to pick out individuals, but it is impossible not to mention Leah Graham’s rapping, contorted Witch, Joseph Payne’s delightfully ditzy Jack, Ethan Harvey’s Baker, Elizabeth Rigby as the fearless and frustrated Baker’s Wife, and Hannah Dismore’s beautifully sung Cinderella. Daniel Patch and Jack Frank make the very most of the pricelessly posing Princes, and Catherine Ayling is a perfectly petulant Little Red Riding Hood.
Sadly, the production is over, so I can’t recommend you to go and see it. But if you did, I’m pretty sure you’ll not see Into the Woods better done, anywhere.