Tuesday, 5 June 2018

REVIEW: Into the Woods at The Cockpit Theatre

The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone is a black box space set in the round. Walking in the set is busy and beautiful and as you wait for the performance of All Star Productions, Into the Woods. The set engages you to be looking around, walking over bark to your seats as one person starts on stage. It’s a remarkable set; ladders reaching up creating dimension and reach. Working in the round is difficult but this set made it slightly more accessible. 

The space is perfect for this production. The lighting and set engulf the audience and make it more immersive than expected. 

Following the zeitgeist of innovative staging which I first fell in love with in La Strada there is a strong ensemble feel from the off. 

Sondheim’s Into the Woods is a classic. Taking the fairytales we know and love so well and putting an unfamiliar couple (The Baker and his Wife) right in the middle of them on their quest to have a baby. The first act shows us a twist on the tales we love; Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. In the second half it flips everything on it’s head by adding real-life elements to the fantastical and perfect worlds we have grown up with. 

This 21st century spin on the show is innovative and brave and lands well most of the time. Each story represents a different stereotype of pop culture; from Cinderella’s Essex girl sisters to the Princes straight out of ‘Made in Chelsea’. This device, instead of separating them from the audience allows them to associate with them. However, that being said basing Jack and his mother from a council estate in Glasgow came off as slightly offensive at times. 

Each member in that ensemble was a beautiful vocalist. Cinderella, Rapunzel and The Witch (Abigail Carter-Simpson, Louise Olley and Michele Moran respectively) had some of the best vocals I heard. Moran’s Irish Witch was fun and pointed yet balanced the sentimental side of her character extremely well. It was nice seeing Francesca Pim again after seeing her in Salad Days at the Union Theatre - she gave another song performance as [One of the ugly sisters; comical and full of life, which unfortunately stood out at times as the rest of the cast didn’t always carry the same energy. 

The first act is always strong and this was no different. Lead by Tim Mcaurthur (also director) as the Baker he is strong and confident and a far sight better than his movie counterpart. His wife, played brilliantly by Jo Wickham is comical and relatable with a good voice; perfect casting for this part: a great chemistry between them. 

Jack and his Mother were show stealers. Comical and accurate with their
dialogue (besides the afore mention precipice of offence). I felt as if his mother didn’t always have to be slurry and drunk as her dialogue was chewed up at times. As Jack, Jamie O’Donnell took the mantle of best performance of the night. Continually engaged in his surroundings, his characteristics of a simpler Jack was a really nice take on the character for this performance. Paired with a Red Riding (from the) Hood Florence Odumosu, who is a hoot every second on stage, the cast’s interpretations of the characters are superb and current; I do however feel the direction lacked at times.

The Narrator, Jordan Michael Todd is a wonderful performer and tells the story beautifully. There is a whimsical sense about him. He’s told this story hundreds of times and loves each time, each character and each moment he tells it. The glue that held together this some what misdirected performance. 

The second act on the other hand flounders a little bit and descends into being nonchalant and maybe making Rapunzel addicted to cocaine at the end was a bit out of place. 

This reimagining is fun and innovative from Joana Dias’ set design to the interpretations which came alive on the stage. The space allows you to invest more in the world that’s created in front of you but I feel that Tim McArthurs’s direction needs a bit of refinement. 

Review by Samuel Clements

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Unallocated | Price of Ticket: £26
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