Reading programmes can be very useful when you are a lazy blogger. Snitch a couple of the director’s choice phrases and you can sum up a show quicker than any original thought. Useful approach. Leaves more time for the serious things like which nag is going to run fastest at Epsom Downs on Saturday. But, as it is with horses, be careful what you wish for. Especially if you are a character in Sondheim’s Into The Woods. Idyllic realised dreams quickly turn to painful ash. Or that’s the gist of it. Don’t stray off the path, be late leaving the ball, or buy a bag of doubtful beans. A moral for life. It says so in the programme.
Into the Woods is no Company or A Little Night Music, too theatrically lite for that, but it has Mr Sondheim’s sumptuous musical tones and rhythms. And scintillatingly clever words. I’m a big fan of this marmite composer, and yes that is in the programme. And he cleverly links the fabled fairy tales with the narrative glue of a likeable baker and his seemingly barren wife and an omniscient narrator who presides over both charm and chaos. Do it badly though and it would be a pretty dreary evening for those of us who feed off stronger dramatic fare. Thoughts of painted wooded backcloths and weak performers make one shudder. There was never any danger of that here. St Andrew's Players wheeled out Alistair Brown from the Rep. And he has serious inventive form. We got a magnificent towering wooden structure to frame and highlight all the action, some ingenious staging moments, and a neat split narrative from the Brothers Grimm. Mr Brown is a clever bugger, and no it does not say that in the programme. Perhaps it should.
But no matter how you wrap it up you need folks to perform it. Individually I could be sniffy about one or two but collectively this company zinged. Acting was generally strong and singing even better. Too many good numbers to list but amongst the best were Hello Little Girl (Wolf and Red Riding Hood), Giants in the Sky (Jack), Agony (Princes), Witch’s Lament (Witch), Moments in the Woods (Baker’s Wife), and No One is Alone (Quartet). In acting terms Jenna Ryder-Oliver (Witch) and Emma Orr (Red Riding Hood) were outstanding for richly crafted portrayals and they were well matched by excellent performances from Jamie Pritchard (Jack), Frances Hall (Baker’s Wife), and David Mills (Wolf and Prince). Andy Whalley and Adam Butcher combined nicely as the Grimm brothers and I particularly liked Mr Butcher’s secondary role as a very camp royal courtier in fetching top hat. It’s my age. Hayley Vaughan sang beautifully as Cinderella but she needs to sharpen up her acting skills to totally please and the Baker of John O’Leary, engaging and convincing as he was, seemed a little unsure on lines in some of his scenes. Happens to us all, live theatre is like that. In the smaller roles, there were a lot of them, I particularly warmed to Amy Hansford (Cinderella’s Stepmother) and Stephanie Overington (Florinda) for supremely controlled performances of two rather nasty folk. The very young and highly talented Miss Overington is, in my opinion, destined for greater things on the stage.
Mr Brown is probably thinking he is too old to be destined for greater things but he can be well pleased with this one. Crackling from the mikes irritated at times and, surprisingly, some of David Houghton’s generally excellent lighting was occasionally late on cue. Must be that Saturday night, last night, feeling. But overall, aided by smashing musical director (Beth Thomas) and clever and eye catching choreography (Lynette Driver) he gave us a show that rarely flagged and generally tingled. I loved the depiction of Grandma Wolf’s bed, extremely clever, and even if not original in conception the execution of it was magnificent. Am told he got the idea whilst wandering around Regent’s Park. Nothing wrong with that. I get lots of my best ideas when wandering around in parks. Parks not woods. Read the Police Gazette if you don’t believe me. Certainly won’t find it in any theatre programme. Roy Hall.