Into the Woods with the genius of Gilliam
“Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn “
Lyric from “Children Will Listen.”
“If the end is right, It justifies the bean”
Despite Covid and the Old Vic’s misgivings and misunderstanding, Into the Woods, under director and Monty Python icon Terry Gilliam, makes its launch eventually at the Theatre Royal in Bath. Stephen Sondheim was involved at the planning stages before his untimely death. I am sure he would have been thrilled with this exhilarating and brilliantly designed musical.
I had only before seen one Terry Gilliam staged production at the ENO but I will remember forever the motorcyclist with his fixed scarf always flying along to give the impression of a journey, but that imaginative design coupled with a sense of injustice at the cancelling of Into the Woods at the Old Vic, made me determined to brave the five hour return journey to Bath.
I would have travelled for twenty hours to see this marvellous show. Based on popular and well known fairy tales, Act One features Little Red Ridinghood (Lauren Conroy), the Wolf (Nathaneal Campbell) and Grandma (Cath Whitefield) but memorably after she has been surgically removed from the Wolf’s intestines by Jack (Barney Wilkinson) of beanstalk fame. Julian Bleach as the Mysterious Man dressed as a Victorian funeral director links and haunts many of the scenes.
The mission revolves around the Baker (Rhashan Stone) and his wife (Alex Young)’s desire to have a child. They have been cursed with infertility but the Witch (Nicola Hughes) says she will lift the curse if they find for her, “A Cow as White as Milk, A Cape as Red as Blood, The Hair as Yellow as Corn, The Slipper as Pure as Gold.”
Milky White (Faith Prendergast) is the scene stealing cow who belongs to Jack and his mother (Gillian Bevan). Jack is charged with selling his best friend Milky White in exchange for food but agrees to lend her to the Baker for some beans until he can buy her back. You can start to work out the origins of the Witch’s needs but the golden hair of Rapunzel (Maria Conneely) may have you foxed.
The presence of both Cinderella (Audrey Brisson after her celebrated Amélie title role) and Rapunzel calls for a pair of princes and the glorious self-realisation of one of them saying, “I was raised to be charming but not sincere.” This is just one example of Sondheim’s witty debunking of the myth of a prince but this production is full, not just of clever lyrics, but Gilliam’s touches of sight jokes which make you smile and giggle.
Part of the charm of this piece is the animals, the cow who can tremble with fear or brush an unwanted kiss away with a hoof and the woodland animals, the deer, the rabbit and the mouse who have beautifully crafted heads and movement to match. Oh I forgot the wolf’s outfit! Leah Hausman as co-director and choreographer has worked with Gilliam before.
It is Jon Bausor’s stage design which is show stopping, sinister trees in the dark woods which move with the characters, a giant pocket watch to show how close we are to midnight and the framing of the stage. The Theatre Royal is a really attractive space which feels like a surround auditorium and for this show the archway and boxes have been covered in black and white drawings as if it were a child’s toy theatre, penny plain sheets to colour in.
The first act is pretty similar to the traditional tales but the second act is altogether darker and seated in reality not happy endings. Because the first act is very long when the show was on a pre-Broadway run in San Diego the audience, thinking the interval was the end, headed for the parking lot but were pursued by Stephen Sondheim shouting, “Come back!”
The singing is of the highest standard, Nicola Hughes’s Witch is superlative, especially in “Last Midnight” but these singers can also act as Rashan Stone’s Baker so amply demonstrates but the show ensemble is well cast. With the songs comes the clarity of diction which Sondheim’s lyrics deserve but the songs are also more tuneful than some of his less accessible musicals.
Monty Python lives as there is an eye opening visitor from the beanstalk house. Jack’s family has great wealth from the hen laying golden eggs but he learns money isn’t the key to happiness. But you’ll love the gold jewellery Milky White has been given, gold nose ring, necklace and bracelets or should that be anklets? This act is ultimately sad with many losses and mature themes of infidelity and death and not really suitable for small children.
I loved Terry Gilliam’s Into the Woods and have no hesitation in awarding it five stars from Theatrevibe, the theatre site that doesn’t do stars. It has to have a life after Bath!
Opening: Into the Woods
Cinderella at the Grave
Hello, Little Girl
Little Red Ridinghood
I Guess This Is Goodbye
Maybe They’re Magic
Our Little World
I Know Things Now
A Very Nice Prince
Giants in the Sky
A Very Nice Prince (Reprise)
It Takes Two
Stay With Me
On the Steps of the Palace
Act One Finale
Act Two Opening
Moments in the Woods
No One Is Alone
Act Two Finale
Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Co-directors Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman
Co-directors: Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman
Choreographer: Leah Hausman
Set Designer: Jon Bausor
Costume Designer: Antony McDonald
Music Director: Stephen Higgins
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Adam Fisher
Video Designer: Will Duke
Illusion Design: Joihn Bulleid
Puppet Creation: Billie Achilleos
Fight Director: Brad Wendes
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Director’s Muse: Willow Ida Gilliam Karlberg
Running Time: Two hours 50 minutes with an interval
Booking until 10th September 2022
Box Office: 01225 448844
Station: Bath Spa
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Theatre Royal Bath
on 24th August 2022