Review: Into the Woods, Cockpit

This production of Into the Woods at the Cockpit Theatre brings it into the 21st century, not a strictly necessary move

“To have, to wed, to get, to save, to kill, to keep, to go to the festival”

One of the main reasons that fairytales have endured as long as they have is that they are timeless, their messages recited as-is at bedsides since time immemorial. Recognising this, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods gives us a first half which takes us deep into this enchanted world as we know it and waiting until after the interval to show us what happens after happy ever after. 

So the notion of updating the show to a specifically 21st-century context is an intriguing one, as director Tim McArthur draws in influences such as The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Rab C Nesbitt. On the one hand, it offers a fresh take on well-known characters; on the other, it also provides a distracting layer onto characters that barely need it. The result is a well-performed interpretation that rarely feels essential. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Cockpit”

Review: Road Show, Union

“Carelessness and being free of care,
Aren’t they the same?”

Since its inception in 1999, Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show – with book by John Weidman – has undergone considerable rehabilitation, not least three title changes, and so has rarely been seen on this side of the Atlantic. John Doyle transferred his Off-Broadway production to the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2011 for its European premiere but this is the first UK revival since then, director Phil Willmott continuing a mini-residency at the Union after last month’s fine Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

But where the episodic nature of Brecht’s storytelling worked well, Road Show is less successful in stringing together its vignettes of chasing the American Dream into something more affectingly substantial. The show follows the contrasting but always connected lives of brothers Wilson and Addison Meisner (per the programme) as they seek to parlay guts and gumption into something more, taking unsuspecting benefactors, love interests and easy marks along for the ride. Continue reading “Review: Road Show, Union”

Review: Into The Woods, Ye Olde Rose and Crown

“The way is clear
The light is good”

Last night I saw some great fringe Sondheim and late last week I saw some of Grimm’s Tales brought to life and so in the natural coincidental way of things, tonight’s show combined both of those. Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods sweeps up a collection of those fairytale characters and asks the question what happens after happy ever after. And in Tim McArthur’s re-envisioning for All Star Productions way up north-east in the Walthamstow pub theatre Ye Olde Rose and Crown, it gains a surprising cultural relevance.

A big budget Hollywood adaptation may be on its way over the Christmas period but McArthur looks closer to home for inspiration, to the kind of popular television programming that clutters the schedule these days – Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, Jeremy Kyle ad nauseam – plus throwing in all manner of other modern references, Wills and Kate and the ubiquitous selfie. But somehow it does all hang together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, this motley crew bound together by the richly complex score and book.

McArthur has assembled a fine cast of both old hands and new who largely run riot with the characterisations. Paul Hutton and Jo Wickham are at the centre of the storm as the kindly Baker and the Baker’s Wife whose desperate desire for a child anchors much of the drama but around them swirl such delights as Tim Phelps hooray-henry Prince, Emma Ralston’s vibrant Little Red Riding Hood, and Hugh O’Donnell and Sarah Waddell as a vividly Glaswegian take on Jack and his mum.

It’s all so well sung (thanks to Aaron Clingham’s musical direction) and so well designed (by Gregor Donnelly) that the cast of 17 flow effortlessly around this tiny stage and it really does work extremely well. Whether a deliberate choice or not, Helena Raeburn’s Witch seems to blend into the ensemble more than one might have expected, especially post-transformation, where the role is normally given more prominence but one really does have to get very picky to find much wrong with this. If only the film could be as good…

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 31st October

Review: Cross Purpose, Kings Head

“One can’t always remain a stranger”

Albert Camus may be better known as a philosopher and author than as a playwright so it is a rare opportunity that presents itself to catch his play Cross Purpose (Le Malentendu) in the Sunday/Monday slot at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre pub. A mother and daughter eke out a joyless existence, running a glum guesthouse somewhere in Central Europe and murdering their rich guests, but when their next victim turns out to be a man with a connection to them both, tragic consequences ensue. 

Stuart Gilbert’s translation captures something of the philosophical weight of Camus’ writing, his exploration of the way life is cruel to anyone no matter how intrinsically good or evil they may be, but often does so in a rather cumbersome manner. There’s an archness to the text which also possesses a vein of mordant humour, both of which prove effective in summoning the strangeness of this world. But the turn of phrase occasionally jars in its awkwardness and not all the actors manage to surmount this challenge. Continue reading “Review: Cross Purpose, Kings Head”