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: I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, VAULT Festival

“We don’t need a book, what we need is action”

The publicity for Abi Zakarian’s I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream puts it better than I ever could – it’s “a play-performance-art-protest-thing.” With one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in a theatre this year, involving Sean Bean. Directed by Rafaella Marcus, the show has all the raw energy of devised work but also carries with it the weight of something much more deeply considered.

I Have A Mouth… is an attempt to “address every single feminist issue in the space of sixty minutes” and does so, with its company of six, in a mightily anarchic manner. These are women who are just as likely to spit in a mirror, throw a tampon at you and bite the head off a wedding bouquet than sit quietly in the corner and put up with the patriarchy any longer and fuck knows, they’ve got every right to be angry. Continue reading “Review: I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, VAULT Festival”

Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope Theatre

“My work gets a bit poofy when I get nervous”

One of my favourite things to experience in the theatre is that sweet spot of just being happy to spend time with the characters presented to you. Much of that is down to the writing but a good deal of it also comes from how the production interprets it and so I’m delighted to report that I happily spent a couple of hours with the ladies of the Hope Theatre’s Steel Magnolias, and could easily spend a couple more, with my cup of ice tea, my fan with a pastel-coloured parrot on it (available to buy at the box office) and much love in my heart.

Robert Harling’s 1987 play found fame in the film version that was released a couple of years later but works exceptionally well here as a study in multi-generational female friendship. Over the course of 4 scenes in 3 years, we experience the trials and tribulations of the patrons of a Louisana beauty salon but despite the drama – and what tear-jerking drama it is – the beauty of Steel Magnolias comes in the everyday relationships and interplay of these women, their fallings-out and friendships, their sharing of recipes and gossip alike, the minutiae of life writ large. Continue reading “Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope Theatre”

Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Landor

“They try to figure out what makes her tick”

Described as a musical faerytale, Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter aims to create the feeling of a story from the Brothers Grimm but in actual fact, has come up with an astonishingly assured piece of original musical theatre. Set in the fictional Irish town of Spindlewood, the story delves into the myth behind the statue of a young girl in the town square – a tale of grieving inventor Abraham and of Constance, a girl not like the others, and how she touches the lives of the townspeople around her despite their pettiness and prejudices. 

David Shields’ remarkable design work is some of the best the Landor has ever seen, an all-encompassing vision that properly transforms the theatre and transports the audience to a different, magical, place. Cleverly conceived and carefully constructed, its various pieces work…well…like clockwork. And this ambition is matched in the scope of the writing and the score, combining the epic with the intimate, the emotional with the entertaining, the folkloric with the universal in what emerges as a deeply moving tale. Continue reading “Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Landor”

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