Venue: Main Theatre, Adelaide College of the Arts, 39 Light Square, Adelaide
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
The influence of director, Ric Trevaskis, could be clearly seen in this very fine production of what is, arguably, Stephen Sondheim’s most loved musical, the multi award-winning, Into the Woods, with his lyrics and music based on a book by James Lapine. Trevaskis has directed this work twice before, the last time for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in 2007, his experience giving him a full understanding of how to bring out so much of its inner meaning and captivate an audience. Not surprisingly, even at a 5pm Sunday matinee performance, the auditorium was packed.
Musical Director, Keith Crellin, has assembled a skilled and well-balanced orchestra of students from the Elder Conservatorium of Music. The singers, too, were drawn from there, with AC Arts providing the venue and technical support. Stuart Maunder, the former Artistic Administrator and Executive Producer of Opera Australia, also spent a weekend working with the cast.
The story is based around several of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, slightly reworked and supplemented to connect all of them into a narrative in which they become interdependent. A narrator appears from time to time to fill in gaps and there is also the Mysterious Man whose cryptic comments leave the baker bewildered. The childless baker, whose parents were killed in a baking accident, and his wife discover the truth and seek the help of the witch next door to release them from her spell that makes him impotent.
She sends them in search of the ingredients of that spell. These include a red cape, linking to Little Red Riding Hood, her grandmother and the wolf, blonde hair, linking to Rapunzel and her prince, a white cow, linking to Jack and The Beanstalk, his mother and the Giant, and a golden slipper, linking to Cinderella, her prince and her step-family. All of the events that follow happen in the woods and, by the end of Act 1, we have seen the familiar fairy tales unfold, accompanied by much hilarity, and reach the point where everybody lives happily ever after.
Act 2, however, reveals that they do not live happily for very long at all, as the Giant’s wife comes seeking retribution for his death at Jack’s hand. Chaos ensues as she stomps about the kingdom, destroying buildings and crushing its inhabitants, and all of them quickly try to cast the blame onto somebody else. They must cease their squabbling and put aside their differences to save their lives by working together to defeat the Giantess.
Blake Parham and Daniela (Bella) Jedrzejczak stood out as the baker and his wife, both in their singing and their characterisations, establishing a close rapport that made them a believable couple. Matthew Lykos was suitably detached and had clear diction and good projection as the narrator. Bronwyn Palmer sang well, easily negotiating the range of songs, but tended to underplay the role of the witch. She could have afforded to make her character somewhat bigger. Tahlia Ries was a delightful Red Riding Hood if, perhaps, showing a little too much maturity at the start, and Brooke Window handled the rollercoaster emotional journey of Rapunzel skilfully.
Natalie Tate gave us a Cinderella who was considerably more charming than her Prince turned out to be, in a well-measured performance that showed the gradual emergence of an inner strength in her character. Spencer Darby made a fine Wolf, imposing and devious, as well as a portraying a wolf of another kind as Cinderella’s inconstant Prince. The family trait of philandering was seen in his brother, Rapunzel’s Prince, played by Jordan Rose,
Riley Sutton clearly brought out the growth in the rather simple-minded Jack, who was forced to face the consequences of his actions up the beanstalk, and Nick Coxhill was certainly nicely mysterious as the Mysterious Man. Victoria Anderson, Megan Donald and Bethany Hill, as Cinderella’s step-mother and the Ugly Sisters provided plenty of comic relief and Sharon Turley, as Jack’s mother, gave her character a mix of motherly love and total frustration with her son. As Cinderella’s mother and Red Riding Hood’s grandmother Fiona McArdle gave us two distinctly different characters and Hugh Wagner was appropriately bowed and subservient as Cinderella’s father. Jared Frost gave us an officious public servant in the role of the Steward and Vanessa Shirley, as the voice of the Giantess, boomed out powerfully. Emma Hills and Karina Button made a brief appearance as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the new loves of the two Princes.
David Lampard’s set design worked well, with plenty of access through the forest and the two raked, raised platforms delineated differing locations. Ashlee Wohling’s lighting design was very effective and complemented the set. Another important part of the production was Peter Riley’s sound design. The costumes, which I seem to remember from a previous production, were superb. A couple of missed microphone cues, or low level entries did nothing to diminish the quality of this production.
This modern day morality play, dealing with ethics, families and relationships, ill-considered wishes, actions and consequences, and much more, was given a worthy interpretation by this group of emerging artists under the direction of an established master of the genre, in Ric Trevaskis. Bravo!
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.