Review – Into The Woods

Nov 14 2012 | By More

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Jonathan Blaydon (Wolf) and Stella Merz (Little Red) in Eusog's production of Into the Woods. Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic @

Jonathan Blaydon (Wolf) and Stella Merz (Little Red) in Eusog’s production of Into the Woods. Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic @

Review by Thom Dibdin

A giant to end all giants stamps its way onto the Pleasance Theatre stage this week in Eusog’s excellent – if occasionally wavering – production of the Stephen Sondheim favourite, Into The Woods.

Picking up a quartet of fairy stories – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel – the musical twists them all together into a coherent tale.

In a magic kingdom, far, far away, all four protagonists find themselves in a position where they have to go into the woods. Scary-biscuits, indeed, under Celia Dugua’s crepuscular lighting design. So too, does the local baker in search of four items which will allow his neighbour, the witch, to lift the curse of barrenness on his home.

Once you learn that he’s in search of a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, a hair as yellow as straw and a slipper pure as gold, the future passage of much of the plot is assured.

Indeed, it plays with the ideas and images of fairy stories that are way beyond a younger audience. Jonathan Blaydon’s lascivious Wolf is a common enough (and fitting) depiction, less common and equally suitable is Stella Merz’s depiction of an ever-hungry and brattish Little Red. Best of all, Sarah Kate Howarth’s Cinderella’s early exit from her ball is not to meet a midnight deadline, but out of mistrust of her Prince (Sam Broer).

Eusog, directed with great panache by Julien Matthews, carry all this depth and variation from the norm with ease. This is adult stuff, but not in a such a way that “adult” is a euphemism for smutty. There’s the odd nudge-nudge moment, but the whole piece gets its understanding of what it is doing just about right.

Performance-wise this is not always quite as satisfactory. At times, when it needs to be meaty and fulsome it is too tentative. As a consequence, lines of text at times become lost behind the music. At others, Musical Director Tim Matson lets his otherwise excellent band loosen their attack, just when the music needs to be firm and emphatic.

The happy quartet of tales is torn apart
Caroline Hickling (Witch) in Eusog's production of Into the Woods. Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic @

Caroline Hickling (Witch) in Eusog’s production of Into the Woods. Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic @

That said, this is hardly the easiest of musicals to perform and this is surely a problem of familiarity which will be corrected through the week. There are some great vocal performances in there, too. Finlay MacAulay as the Baker and Abby Jackson as the Baker’s Wife keep it tight, with Jackson making the most of it.

Caroline Hickling is an excellent Witch. Sadly her early tongue-twisting listing of the required items is one of the most noticeably submerged vocal lines in terms of text, but when she needs to come out and sing at the end she does so with strength and understanding.

Fairy stories carry weight because they speak to their listeners’ subconscious. They are explorations of the transgressive elements of growing up, the points where children stretch out beyond the rules created to protect them.

As a fairy story for grown-ups this doesn’t explore the danger of breaking boundaries – but the danger of not letting boundaries be broken. The fairy tales tell us that these things have to happen; in the second half, as events spiral out of control from “happy ever after”, James Lapine’s book warns of what will occur if they do not.

It is in this context that the happy quartet of tales is torn apart. The princes find other princesses to seduce and the dead giant’s wife comes looking for the boy who killed her husband.

And in the Giantess’s arrival, the backstage creatives have got it spot on. Not in what you see, but what you imagine you will see. Ben Hussey’s sound design of huge ominous bass vibrations portends something extraordinary, while the shaking of the set and falling of leaves across the stage indicate just how big it will be.

The shadow-cast by the Giantess herself doesn’t quite live up to the thunder, but that hardly matters. By the time she appears, the sheer physicality of her approach has already made her seem far more real than any papier-mache creation ever could be.

A solid production which might not be Eusog’s very best, but one which they carry off with strong attention to detail. Particularly in its thrilling, atmospheric design.

Run ends Saturday 17 November 2012
Running time: 2 hrs 40 mins
Pleasance Theatre, The Pleasance, 7.30pm (also 2.00pm Sat).
Eusog website:
Online tickets from:



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