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 was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Feelings invade me and leave me in shock”

Part of the Blaze festival and renewing the co-producing relationship between Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Barbican, I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky is playing at the East London theatre for a full fortnight. Composed by John Adams and libretto by June Jordan, the title of the play is taken from a quote by a survivor of the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, a suburb of Los Angeles. The entirely sung-through musical play follows seven young Americans from different ethnicities and backgrounds, struggling to deal with the challenges urban life is throwing them, especially around race, sexuality and immigration.

Former gang leader Dewain is arrested for stealing two bottles of beer in a rush to meet his girlfriend, Consuelo, an illegal El Salvadorean immigrant, by rookie policeman Mike. The incident is caught on tape by Tiffany, an ambitious tv reporter and then used by Vietnamese-American lawyer Rick to plead for Dewain’s innocence. Consuelo is also being counselled on family planning issues by Leila, but she is having to deal with the attentions of local preacher David. Then, the earthquake hits and all the characters have to deal with the repercussions, emotional and physical, on their lives as priorities are significantly reassessed. Continue reading “Review: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Wilton’s Music Hall

“’Stop, ladies, pray.
‘A man!’”

So just a few days after seeing the touring production of Pirates in Brighton, another production appears in London: for such a fan of this show as I am, heaven! This particular Pirates of Penzance is a transfer of the all-male Union Theatre production from last year which has been remounted at the atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End, one of my favourite venues in London. And in a blatant attempt to make me fall yet further in love with the idea, preview ticket prices were set at £10, less than half the regular ticket-price.

To be honest, it did take me a little time to adjust to the different production: having seen (and completely loved) a highly professional version by an opera company so recently, this presents an interesting alternative take which was no less professional. What it perhaps lacks in the vocal side of things, it more than makes up for with a much greater sense of the comic potential contained within Gilbert & Sullivan’s work. And what makes this such an effective take on this show is that despite the conceit of an all-male cast, it actually has very little impact on the production itself. It is played as straight as a die, no (well, hardly any) camping it up or tipping the wink and so this becomes a refreshing new look at a musical already full of natural wit and genuine comedy, rather than being painfully self-aware and post-modern. Continue reading “Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Wilton’s Music Hall”