If you go down to the woods today you’ll be sure of a big surprise. If you venture to the Arts Theatre tonight you’ll get a feast for your ears and eyes. The G and S Society with master magician director Gordon Combes presents a colourful and energetic realisation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”. Down in the pit the orchestra deftly controlled by Jillian Gulliver provides a seemingly effortless music and sound platform for the action aplenty on stage.
Costuming, by aforementioned Combes together with Anne Humphries, is fairy tale perfect and inspired a number of spontaneous reactions from an attentive and appreciative audience. Set design (Combes also!) is in practical keeping with all the movement on stage. Light and sound plotting (Matt Ralph and Glenn Hill) produces a complementary blend throughout. The views of the woods through electronic panels, together with the occasional flights of animated birds, create just the right atmosphere for the audience to feel the presence of the forest. The cast moves and works as one, guided by astute direction and subtle choreography by Celeste Barone. Whilst on a production values theme, I acknowledge the Stage Management of Anthea “Harold” Browne. This seamless production is due in no small measure to the efficiency of technicians and crew working back of stage.
So to the play! Suffice to say, there is a manipulative, cruel and nasty Witch (a triumphant performance by Megan Humphries). There is a rather gormless Jack (Buddy Munro-Dawson), his insistent and powerful Mother (Debrah Caddy) and their much sought after but clapped out cow. (If the cow were offered at auction to last night’s audience, it would have brought a record price!) Liliana Carletti is a bright, bubbly, sweet treats-addicted Little Red Riding Hood (LRRH). Emily Morris as Cinderella is the epitome of a modern day young woman with a strong will and commonsense values. Cassidy Gaiter as Rapunzel really lets her hair down from atop her prison tower.
Mysterious Man and Narrator (James McCluskey-Garcia) is the resident sage, reminding us that we all lose our way in the forest at times. The Baker (Jared Frost) and his interesting and singular Wife (Catherine Breugelmans) share a mutual dream and desire for parenthood, but both encounter sidetracks along the way. The two Princes (Dominic Hodges and Sam Mannix) both represent royalty, privilege and entitlement. Yet they too ponder decision-making in the excellent song “Agony”, in which they exchange tales of woe. Cinderella’s selfish family, Stepmother Nadine Wood and stepsisters Grace Frost and Dharini Rajaramanan, share great social aspirations at almost any cost. Sam Mannix, Cinderella’s Prince, appears earlier in the play as a well-drawn, crafty, licentious Wolf with cravings for LRRH and her Grandma. The shadow play business with the Wolf in Grandma’s bed enticing LRRH, his next morsel, is cleverly and effectively executed.
This musical play is much more serious than it is whimsical. Love is won and lost, promises are kept and broken. There are spells cast and spells undone. There is a central quest that encompasses everybody in some way and every character embarks on their own expedition of self-discovery. For some, as the Mysterious Man alludes, there will be hard-won redemption.
Having said all of this, there is an overwhelming sense of fun and optimism. It is an ensemble piece par excellence in which all components combine beautifully. Sondheim’s tricky music is treated with practised and professional respect. All the voices of the talented cast contribute to the whole. The audience was enthralled throughout and time flew. The G and S Siciety can feel rightly proud of this one! It is magic.