Sunday, 5 September 2010

Into The Woods

Yesterday Lee and I went on one of our many theatre trips, this time to the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park to see Into The Woods. I've been looking forward to seeing this show for quite some time as I think it’s one of my favourite Sondheim musicals and probably his most accessible piece, as an introduction to his works. Also, being captioned by Stagetext, it gave Lee the opportunity to see another brilliant musical and, hopefully, a better appreciation of this particular musical genius. Stephen Sondheim is 80 this year and this is one of the many celebratory events being held in his honour around the world.

Into The Woods takes the stories of the Brothers Grimm and gives them a dark and humorous twist.  The popular tales of Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Cinderella and Rapunzel are interwoven with that of the Baker and his Wife and their quest to have a child. However this re-telling goes beyond ‘happily ever after’ as the familiar characters deal with the consequences of their actions and find themselves in unfamiliar circumstances where hopes and dreams are questioned and revisited.

Brief show trailer with captions

The staging at Regent’s Park was absolutely perfect for this show, the open space with its natural backdrop of trees and bushes (and the occasional Pigeon flying onto the set) worked brilliantly and the design and clever incorporation of woodland themes truly made the audience feel enveloped by the “magical” forest. Of particular note was the Witch costume that gave the idea of her gradually assimilating with the forest over the years and also the use of branches to represent Cinderella’s birds.

The set was a simple mixture of wood and metal steps and platforms which allowed for a continuation of the themes into the various creatures encountered along each characters journey’s – the Golden egg-laying Goose created from lawnmower parts, a beanstalk from umbrellas, the Giant’s wife from dustbin lids, garden tools and an oversized man-trap.

Time lapse showing the creation of the set

Link - BBC News takes a look at how the set for Into the Woods was constructed in just one day (no captions, I'm afraid, but still interesting to see an actors-eye-view from the set)

An interesting change to the usual interpretation of this show was the use of a boy as the Narrator. In previous productions I’ve seen, this part is normally played by the “mysterious man” who also turns out to be the Baker’s estranged father. Using the boy brought another dimension to the story as he has also run away from his family into the wood and from there he “creates” the story using his imagination and the various toy figures he carries in his backpack.

I personally think this change to the original casting works much better and brings more clarity to the whole piece as it now keeps the narrator and the Baker’s father totally separate, yet also provides a reason why all the characters are planted into the woods in the first place and how the plot has formed from the boys imagination. (It was also great to have the voice of Dame Judi Dench as the Giant’s Wife – a lovely touch to use an actress of such well renown. This was especially fitting for someone who received critical acclaim and Sondheim’s personal appreciation for her performance in A Little Night Music back in 1996).

The show was wonderful and the best interpretation I have seen so far. We were so pleased that the Open Air Theatre captioned the show and a big thank you to them and also to both Stagetext and the hard work of the captioner to put together this show. This is not an easy one to caption as the pace throughout is particularly fast and can be very difficult to follow. However a stirling job was done and nothing was lost in the caption translation. In fact it was so good that Lee would love to see it again.
Our only minor disappointment was that the only performance captioned was the Saturday matinee. Under normal circumstances this would most certainly be the best performance to caption as it allows the majority of people the opportunity to travel to London to see these outstanding shows, during their leisure time, without the need to spend a fortune on an evenings accommodation. However, this stunning show benefits even more from the onset of nightfall during the performance and, from what I can gather, this, along with the excellent lighting, add even more to the production. Maybe something the theatre could bear in mind for future captioned performances – put on both a captioned Saturday matinee and evening performance.

It would certainly be great to be able to see this show again if they would consider bringing it back for a rerun at Regent’s Park. Lee has said that he would love to see this production again so that’s a big thumbs up from both of us.

For further information about the great work Stagetext do, click on the logo above

(Photos and videos © of the respective owners of the material (Catherine Ashmore, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, BBC Worldwide, Stagetext)

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