Into the Woods

Fairytales don’t really make much sense. Designed to be as simple as possible in order to be told without the need for cumbersome text or complex detail, they are all iconic in that very simplicity. Into The Woods, the classic Sondheim/Lapine musical from the late 1980s, is famously bizarre in both its characterisation and narrative. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has put together an accomplished production of this unusual musical which is held together by a few high-quality songs, some of which are repeated ad nauseum throughout the show. It is fortunate that the RCS has made a great production out of questionable material.

There is plenty to praise in this lavish production

Into The Woods is a mashup of countless classic fairytales, intricately and intelligently woven together. The setup is fiendishly clever and for around ninety minutes of the show’s 150 minute runtime holds together perfectly. However as the plot gets more metatextual it begins to lose it’s narrative cohesion until it ultimately limps to the finish line. Though Into The Woods undoubtedly has many fans, there was plenty of shifting in seats when, after over two hours, The Witch’s Children Will Listen song returned for a second reprise.

RCS have nonetheless put together an accomplished production of this flawed musical. Most immediately notable in its quality is Richard Evans’ design work; intriguing without ever being distracting. Similar praise must be given to Musical Directors James Harrison and Robert Wilkinson, as well as the entire band they command. Beautiful to listen to but hidden from view, it is testament to their ability that audience members were discussing in the intermission if the performers were singing to a recorded broadway backing track.

The entire cast performed well, but only a few excelled, mostly due to the inconsistency in performance style. Abigail Stephenson’s Red Riding Hood is funny, bold and exaggerated, while Philippa Cassar’s Cinderella is subtle and powerful. Both performers are of high quality, but when placed in scenes with each other, through no fault of their own, they make the other seem as though they’re doing something wrong. It's a problem with the performances across the cast, but two performers in particular manage to achieve the necessary balance. Christopher Rowney as The Narrator is perfect for his role and he plays the largely silent observer beautifully. Similarly Caroline Lyell as The Witch manages to be funny, captivating and emotionally engaging in equal measures.

Into The Woods is a difficult play to stage in almost every conceivable sense. With complex music, ambitiously imaginative scenes to stage and difficult characters both to understand and portray, the decision even to put this show on at all is admirable. However, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland does not need a medal of participation, as there is plenty to praise in this lavish production. The direction could have perhaps been tighter, but this is nonetheless a production worth seeing for musical theatre fans and those looking for something enjoyable to start their day at the Fringe.

Reviews by Charlie Ralph

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The Blurb

If you go down to the woods today... you might get more than you wished for. Fairy tale characters meet and clash as they pursue their happily ever afters. There are lessons to be learnt, dangers to avoid and dreams to be chased in the woods. What happens after happily ever after? Contentment? Happiness? Or, more wishing? In the woods, as in life, it's easy to stray from the path. There are consequences, responsibilities... and a rather annoyed giantess to deal with. 'A great show to start off a day at the Fringe' (Herald).