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Review: Into the Woods, at the Cockpit

Stephen Sondheim’s enchanting musical is hauled into the 21st century to cast its spell over a British audience

08 June, 2018 — By Billie Manning

Into the Woods at The Cockpit. Photo: David Ovenden

STEPHEN Sondheim’s Into the Woods is more than 20 years old now, a true giant of musical theatre.

In this production at the Cockpit, Tim McArthur hauls it into the 21st century. The play is as delightfully wicked as it has always been, weaving multiple fairytale storylines into one big, outrageously debauched plot that sees a baker (McArthur) and his wife (Jo Wickham) on a journey to collect certain fairytale objects in order to lift the witch’s curse of infertility upon their house.

Joana Dias’s rather enchanting set design uses woodchips and ladders to create a central “forest” with an urban touch. The play is performed in the round, and with the audience surrounding the centrepiece, the forest appears almost as a character itself. The band, meanwhile, is neatly tucked away in a gallery above.

McArthur has done well to transpose an American play for a UK audience, and some of the anglicisation works well. However, some of the British caricatures seem more 2008 than 2018, with the characters following “chav” and Made in Chelsea stereotypes which make the play seem slightly out of touch (seriously, when was the last time we were joking about people wearing Burberry hats?). Add references such as the appearance of “the floss” in several dance routines and the play starts entering panto-zone.

But it is the performances that are at the heart of this production’s magic. The singing is strong and charming throughout. Jamie O’Donnell’s Jack is gloriously simple, and Florence Odumosu is stand-out as Little Red Riding Hood, providing some real laughs right from the beginning of the play as she stomps, squeals and screams her way around the stage. Most special is Michele Moran, who adds poignancy to the revenge-fuelled character of the witch.

The characters, in the end, are what keep us under the play’s spell.

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