After a long day of dissertation writing in the library, I was somewhat lacking in energy, and it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly enticed by the idea of watching GMTG’s ‘Into the Woods’. However, as soon as I saw the enchanted set on arrival, with vines tracing around the smoke-filled multi-tiered stage, I began to get excited by the scenes to follow. The vocal harmonies, as musically directed by Will Tuckwell, were tight in this opening scene, and I was instantly absorbed into the mysterious land of fairytales, woodland creatures, and (somewhat) handsome princes.
The opening scenes introduced us to the copious amount of characters in the play, however the individuality of each of prevented any potential confusion and misinterpretation of roles. The narrator, as played by Zoë Farrow, introduced the story as a young school child playing with her dolls, showing the extent of her imagination to create the story being performed alongside her. As the show went on, Farrow maintained this character effortlessly, being onstage throughout the first scene, and, indeed, the entire play, without appearing to lose any characterisation, energy or involvement in the surrounding scenes. [SPOILERS!] It was a shame to see the death of the character as she became part of the show’s action in Act 2, which may have been the reason behind the confusing scenes of the second half.
The opening number quickly introduced each character’s story, with the standout performance of the scene coming from Jessie Jarvis as the witch. Jarvis’ physicality accurately depicted that of a fairytale witch, being crouched, crooked and her voice was altered into that of an evil being. Jarvis captivated the audience’s attention throughout the show, encapsulating the witch’s power and influence over the other characters. This scene saw the Witch confess to a spell she had put on the Baker and his Wife (played by Matt Allison and Emma Phelan), which denied them the ability of having a child. In order to break the spell, the Baker and his wife set off on an adventure into the woods to collect four objects, which led to the eventual involvement some familiar fairytale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk.
As the show progressed, we were taken through a series of themes and accompanying emotions, from comedic interludes, terrifying fixtures, and romantic bursts, as well as anger, frustration, aggression and lust. Particular mention should be awarded to the mastermind behind shaping the harp, as stolen from the top of the beanstalk by Jack, into a sexually fuelled and overly sensual being, which caused raucous laughter from all members of the audience.
The Bakers’ quest led them to Cinderella, with Phelan successfully captivating the baker’s wife frustration in capturing the desired golden slipper. It was during these scenes where we were graced by the faultless vocals of Ellie Morrow following the numerous encounters with her Prince, as played by Ed Shock. The romance between Cinderella and her Prince, alongside that of Rapunzel and her own Prince, led to the performance of Agony, as performed by Ed Shock and Lenny Turner. During this competitive scene between the two Princes over whose love was stronger for their Princess, Shock exhumed low and seductive vocal tones, leading to the swooning of Talk of Shame’s very own Sophia Hollis. The effortless falsetto of Turner successfully accompanied this before he was blinded and then reunited with a drunken Rapunzel, humorously performed by Nell Baker. The Prince’s successfully conveyed arrogance, charm and charisma throughout the production, and could not be missed onstage due to the voluptuous luscious locks of their jet black wigs, only adding to the humour of their scenes. Despite being unsure as to why these wigs were essential to the show, they nevertheless added a great deal of comedy to the scenes.
Red Riding Hood, played by Phoebe Reynolds also had comedic scenes of her own, with particular mention going towards that of the wolf, as played by Erin Santillo. The wolf’s creepiness was successfully portrayed through physicality, voice and some interesting habits, including a spine-chilling grimace, and an even creepier continuous lip-licking. This scene was staged effectively, resolving with Allison cutting open the wolf’s stomach to relieve Red, alongside her aggressive grandmother played by Esther Mead.
Overall, the first half of the show provided more of a light-hearted and easy-to-follow plot, with all the complications and confusion occurring in the second act. The character of The Mysterious Man, whose name probably says it all, probably caused a large proportion of this confusion. Maybe we were too distracted from the surrounding scenes to realise what the character added, or maybe we were too preoccupied with our interval Jägerbomb. Nevertheless, we now Disney’s decision to remove the character in the film adaptation. This is not to say that Will Hartley ineffectively conveyed the role in GMTG’s production; Hartley portrayed this character with mystery, a slight edge of creepiness, and definitely made the most out of this disputably unnecessary role.
The second half was not without its highlights, however, with my personal favourite musical number coming from this section of the production.
‘No One is Alone’ was beautifully produced into a
heart-breaking number, whose power was enough to trigger tears of the audience. Allison, as the baker, definitely felt the emotion in this song only to shed a tear himself during the performance, adding to the energies he places in his role. The combination of vocals from Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, the Baker and Jack worked magically, with the split-level staging exposing the full view of these characters. Particular mention must go to the harmonies produced by the simultaneous singing of the Baker and Cinderella, which made you forget that you were watching an amateur production. In fact, we were so mesmerized by Allison’s performance of this number we were too shy to go and congratulate him at the end of the show without a formal introduction.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Allison has a bright future ahead of him in musical theatre, if only he’d put the Geology degree aside…
Maylin Billingham, director of the show, had this to say: ‘It was a joy working with this group of people. Having such a production heavy show meant that the cast and crew had to spend a huge amount of time working together, both in and out of rehearsals. That meant that as a group we became a sort of family.’
Overall, GMTG’s Into the Woods did not disappoint, and was impeccably directed, produced and performed by all involved. In a month full of dissertation writing, Into the Woods allowed for greatly-needed escapism into a fantasy land of giants, magic and romance, and I am already excited for their next production.