Technical reasons (or another spring downpour) chased us indoors for Into the Woods, an assured student production of the tragicomic Sondheim musical that puts a dozen fairy tales into the blender.
So we were at the Shulman Auditorium, an airy spa-ish garden room with a big glass wall backing onto old stone and ancient vines; and also without the full band, sadly, although Sergi Bray and Tim Deamer did a very fine job on double bass and piano. If it’s outside you’ll have violins and a bassoon too; which is wonderful, because this is proper musical theatre and nothing is ever too much. The young cast and crew have embraced this principle and created an enchantingly cartoonish and mobile set adorned with cheeky mice, fairylight beanstalks and a mass of terrifying cardboard and chiffon trees, and filling it with a huge cast (there is hardly any doubling up).
The singing is top-notch, with the impassioned, Disneyish solos particularly engaging the young cast. Alex Bishop and Kathryn Peacock are bright, wholesome and hilarious as the Baker and his wife; Anissa Berry the most glamorous of witches, whether in sequinned warts or vampish lace. Gwenno Jones as a sparkling Little Red bounces cheerfully between scared child and knife-wielding thugette. Laurence Jeffcoate is most engaging as Jack, his crystal-clear delivery well suited to his narrative songs. Special mention to the mothers; Eloise Mattimoe was magnificently cupidinous and pusillanimous as Jack’s, while the exquisite Sarah Davies shone as Cinderella’s.
The anarchic second half, with its random deaths and the abrupt (understandable) decision of the cast to dispose of the narrator can feel like a slog, but Cinderella (a marathon performance from the marvellous Bernadette Johns and her magic birds) is here to cheerfully, hopefully carry us to the final “I wish” with aplomb.