Into the Woods, Bath Theatre Royal

THERE is a review of Terry Gilliam’s marvellous production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, on at Bath Theatre Royal until 10th September, that describes it as “overstuffed”.

This, presumably, from someone who, by an accident of tardy birth, missed the Pythons, the traditions of pantomime, the illustrations of  fairy tales and perhaps the whole steam-punk  movement.  Their loss …..  as was that of the Old Vic audiences …

This production was due to open at the London theatre, but when some of the company took exception to something the famously iconoclastic Gilliam had said about one of the currently fashionable social preoccupations, the show was pulled.  Thank goodness for Bath’s Danny Moar, who invited them into one of the country’s most beautiful theatres.

The former Python and his co-director Leah Hausman are joined by set designer Jack Valentine and a 23-strong crew of designers and effects specialists for this spectacular show, which transforms the proscenium of the Theatre Royal with drawn boxes, arches and doors (rather in the manner of the National Theatre’s 1983 production of The Rivals).

However well you might know Into the Woods, it’s impossible not to be astonished anew at Sondheim’s brilliant take, a mash-up of fable and fairy tale with music and lyrics that underline the timeless relevance of each and every story.

The well-known characters are played by a company of astonishingly versatile actors, from Lauren Conroy (the missing Connor’s sister in the current Shetland) as Little Red Riding Hood, through Nicola Hughes’ majestically malevolent Witch to Julian Bleach’s  Mysterious Man (very like his turn in Bristol Old Vic’s The Grinning Man.)

It’s an ensemble piece, with Kneehigh’s Audrey Brisson, Rhashan Stone as the Baker and Alex Young as his wife, Maria Conneely as the plangent Rapunzel, Faith Prendercast as an amazingly flexible Milky White and all the rest, adding to this spectacular show.

A feast for the eyes and ears, this is a poignant retelling of many stories that are often relegated to the back-burner of childhood memory, and a wonderfully theatrical evening that celebrates the energy, joy and uniqueness of live performance.

If that’s overstuffed, maybe stay home on the sofa instead.


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