With the news that the musical Into the Woods was due to make an appearance on the big screen, I was pleased at the chance to see it on stage first. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, the show brings together a number of fairytale characters in a story which turns tradition on its head and brings something fresh and new to well-known tales. This version at Ye Olde Rose and Crown is directed by Tim McArthur and performed by the in-house company, All Star Productions.
The musical starts off sweetly enough, with the Baker and his Wife heading off “into the woods” to find out how to lift their curse and have a child, but things quickly turn dark with the appearance of traditional fairytale characters such as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Rapunzel, and a Witch. It’s complicated, but the strong book and gripping songs keep it easy to follow, and this modernised version works exceptionally well, with Rapunzel turning to cocaine, the evil stepmother and her daughters a collection of Essex girls, and the precocious Red Riding Hood simultaneously thrilled and scared to be chased by the paedophilic Wolf.
One of my favourite characters was Jack, in this production a Scottish kid from a council estate who is sent by his tracksuit-clad mother to sell his cow Milky White (brilliantly crafted from some old furniture). Hugh O’Donnell excels in the role, his professional debut, while I also loved Emma Ralston’s feisty Red Riding Hood and Jo Wickham’s Baker’s Wife. The two princes, played with aplomb by Josh Pugh and Tim Phelps as posh rahs, provided excellent comic relief, while Helena Raeburn was a suitably frightening Witch.
This was the first time I’d seen this show, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last. It’s a superb musical and it is given an excellent production in this theatre above a pub.