Friday, 11 December 2015

Into The Woods @ The Royal Exchange, 09.12.15

The pantomime season is upon us and if, like me, you want to go to the theatre without the risk of someone saying “It’s behind you” or listen to the same tired jokes you've heard a thousand times before, fear not. There is light in the forest of the Manchester theatre scene.

Into The Woods at The Royal Exchange is an imaginative telling of Stephen Sondheim’s enchanting musical. The story opens with a wealth of fairy-tale characters, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and a wicked witch, all looking for their happily ever- afters before embarking on various quests that require them to go into the titular woods. Each character’s tale starts to intertwine amongst the trees and branches, before they eventually reach the end of their stories, or so we think. Soon we are shown what happens after happily ever after, and it’s not all singing birds and friendly dwarves.

The Royal Exchange hold no punches with this production. The second you walk into the theatre, you see large trees surrounding the performance space, inviting the audience to go into the woods themselves to see the show. The entire cast are amazing.  Normally when watching a show, it’s easy to see the standout star, but each cast member shines, never missing a single beat. Some highlights from the show are Marc Elliot and Michael Peavoy’s duet, ‘Agony’, which has the entire audience in stitches with their perfect timing and sublime voices. It was a joy to watch. Gillian Bevan’s portrayal of the Witch was a real showstopper and Natasha Cottriall brought a wonderful mix of childish innocence, sass and edginess to the part of Little Red Riding Hood.

The cast were just one part of this fantastic show. A special mention has to go to director Matthew Xia, who rose to the challenge of taking this epic musical and fitting it into the Exchange’s intimate venue. This is greatly helped by Jenny Tirmani’s jaw-dropping set design, which looks unassuming to begin with, but soon you feel you are sitting between towering trees and being chased by monstrous giants.

If you are looking for a magical experience this festive season there’s no reason to get lost in the thicket, just go into the woods, …or the Royal Exchange.

Into The Woods runs until 16 Jan 2016 

Words: John Mulholland 

Image: Courtesy of The Royal Exchange