Into the Woods at the Cockpit Theatre
Tim McArthur’s adaptation of Into the Woods brings Stephen Sondheim’s twisted fairytale into an alternative modern world where characters wear tracksuits and trainers but live in a magical kingdom full of witches, princes and wolves.
The baker and his wife want a child, but can’t conceive because the witch next door cursed them when his father stole her vegetables. To break the curse and finally get pregnant, the old crone instructs the couple to head to the woods and find her four objects, each obtained from a fairytale character.
Meanwhile, little Red Riding Hood (Florence Odumosu) is tricked into exploring the woods while the wolf eats her grandmother; Cinderella runs from her prince; Jack is tricked into parting with his precious cow for a handful of beans, which turn out to be magic; and Rapunzel sings forlornly in a tower that her “mother”, the witch, locks her in to protect her from the world and all its horrors.
Brandishing a pint of Special Brew and sporting a pink thong hanging above brown tracksuit trousers, Jack’s Mother is inspired by The Jeremy Kyle Show. Also drawing inspiration from The Only Way Is Essex (the ugly sisters) and reimagining the baker and his wife working in Greggs, McArthur tries to tell these fairy stories through well-known cultural stereotypes. It works in the case of Jack and his mum, but feels a little dated when it comes to the footballer’s wives-style evil stepmother.
The set, with a floor covered in wood chips and various ladders ascending into the air or hanging upside down, is well designed and makes excellent use of the small stage area. The lighting arrangement uses mystical blue hues, spotlights, yellow flashes and red mists to set the scene. Lurking above the audience’s heads, a live band plays piano, flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello with immaculate timing.
Into The Woods has its moments. The princely brothers (Ashley Daniels and Michael Duke) may not have the strongest voices in the world, but Agony, and its reprise in Act 2, is one of the best songs in the show thanks to the characters’ personalities and frequent “yahing”. Michele Moran plays the old crone well and has no trouble transforming her mannerisms without losing her character’s essence. The ugly sisters could show more pain when their toes are cut off, but the accompanying piano music is a nice touch.
However, the piece stumbles in the second act. Half the characters die, but their surviving families and friends don’t seem particularly emotional about it and the deaths themselves are poorly executed. The message of parents not always being right and the importance of appreciating the consequences of what one wishes for is fair enough, but it feels drawn out and overdone. Into the Woods sells itself as a dark fairytale mismatch, but it could have gone further. This show has its moments, but it’s not quite magical.
Photo: David Ovenden
Into the Woods is at the Cockpit Theatre from 23rd May until 24th June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.