Marina Jenkins reviews UMMTS’ enchanting production of Into The Woods
Once again, UMMTS have outdone themselves. Their most recent production, Into the Woods, proves how a student-run society can make professional and inventive theatre, especially when dealing with a budget which is bean-sized compared to many other university musical theatre societies.
Into the Woods interweaves a selection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to seek a modern message through their narratives. The story follows The Baker and his wife whose only wish is to have a child. When they learn this cannot happen because of the Witch’s curse, the two set off on a journey to break it.
Along the way, they meet Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack, and a whole host of recognisable fairytale characters. The musical takes the audience on a journey of morality and magic, in one of Sondheim’s most musically sophisticated pieces.
Emily Oulton directs the show with an imaginative and artistic eye. The modernisation, on the whole, brings a refreshing take to these cautionary tales and allows the audience to question the implications of our actions in today’s society. Oulton, alongside Catriona Darroch as the assistant director, has directed a show that exudes an tangible energy: the stage never stops buzzing with life.
The aesthetics of the production are spectacularly simple. The decision to strip back the staging means that a greater emphasis is placed on the sound and lighting. The production has an immersive quality to it, with Rapunzel’s tower being placed to the side of the auditorium and the shadow of the Giant’s footsteps coming over the audience. We are made to feel as entrapped as the characters onstage, also suffocated by the Witch’s curse.
Each member of the ensemble, bar a couple of accent inconsistencies, brings nuance and depth to their characters. Ben Pointon carries the musical as the Narrator, leading the audience into this world of mystery and peril. Matthew Quinn and Georgia Brown both bring an incredibly humane quality to their roles as The Baker and the Baker’s Wife.
It was also pleasing to see the comedy being fully drawn out in Act 1, particularly by Jordan Jones and Hugh Summers as the Princes duo. Jessica Wiehler shines as Cinderella, as does Freya Parry as the inquiring and innocent Red Riding Hood. The musical direction, lead by Charlie Perry, is outstanding. The complex rhythms combined with lyrics are executed with precision by both the cast and band.
Despite there being some technical issues with the microphones, which cannot be helped, each number is performed with an infectious musicality. Alisha Staley must also be congratulated on her design of the production, particularly the creation of Milky White, Jack’s endearing and life-like cow.
Into the Woods is nothing short of a musical extravaganza. The audience is taken on a journey of twists and turns, humour, and pathos. The cast, crew, and band of forty-four talented individuals, have created a show that leaves no stone unturned and allows the audience to be whisked away on a three-hour, enchantingly eery adventure.