Sunday, 25 January 1998

Into The Woods , MTC, Jan 25, 1998

Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine
Melbourne Theatre Company, Playhouse until February 21, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Jan 24, 1998

Fabulous. Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods is simply fabulous in both senses of the word.

Firstly, it is an exceptional piece of music theatre and secondly, it takes a Bamix to several familiar fables and blends them into an extraordinary whole.

Roger Hodgman, in another successful collaboration with Musical Director Jean McQuarrie, has produced the third in a series of Sondheims for the Melbourne Theatre Company. It incorporates a14 piece orchestra, spooky forest picture-book design (Tony Tripp) and evocative lighting (Jamieson Lewis).

Sondheim is the star of this show, which is not to belittle any individual contributions. His lyrics, with James Lapine's book, weave together Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, creating a complex fabric of character and narrative that illuminates the existential dilemmas of our puny lives. His witty lyrics include such references to Jack's beanstalk as, "If the end is right, it justifies the beans."

Fairy Tales, said child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, "teach us that a struggle against severe difficulties in life. is an intrinsic part of human existence."  Children must learn that "Sometimes people lead you half-way through the woods." Sondheim owes much to Carl Jung's psychological landscape. He has manufactured not one, but myriad heroes' journeys.

Like Parsifal, Red Riding Hood and Jack must escape their mothers in order to mature. Cinderella and Rapunzel must confront and abandon their fantasies about Princes Charming rescuing them. The Baker must reconcile his becoming a parent. "Careful the wish you make", says the lyric. You might just get it.

Sondheim's second half spirals downward into darkness with the disintegration and reformation of this "kingdom far away'. This production captures the peppiness of the first half but labours a little after interval.

The ensemble of fifteen grabs this huge task and run with it. All are deliciously individual and eccentric, even though some may be miscast. Anthony Weight has a fine voice and wonderful comic presence as Jack, and the hilarious Gina Riley, as .the Baker's Wife, has the funniest curtsey ever. Lisa McCune is charming as Cinderella.

A Narrator can be intrusive but Peter Carroll is magnetic. Tamsin Carroll plays Red with cynicism and wit and Rhonda Burchmore's Witch is wild, if a little outside the style of the piece.

 This is a must-see show.  See it - or face the dark side.


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