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Into the Woods review at the Menier Chocolate Factory – ‘charming and large-hearted’

Noah Brody and Emily Young in Into The Woods at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Photo: Tristram Kenton Noah Brody and Emily Young in Into The Woods at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Photo: Tristram Kenton

The call of the forest has been particularly strong this year. We can’t seem to keep away. The summer has been one of many Dreams and we keep venturing back into the woods.

Following Matthew Xia’s production for the Royal Exchange last year and the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s coproduction with Opera North last month, it’s the turn of the Menier Chocolate Factory to present Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s joyful subversion of fairy tale tropes.

This production by Fiasco Theatre Company was originally staged at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Centre before transferring to New York’s Roundabout Theatre. Performed by an ensemble of 10 actor-musicians, it’s a relatively stripped back affair. Derek McLane’s set looks as it’s been constructed from the guts of a piano and the performers wear pioneer-style skirts and shawls. Rapunzel has knitted yellow tresses and there are a lot of splendid chin-whiskers on display.

Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld’s production is warm and large-hearted. It’s a proper ensemble piece in which each company member gets a chance to shine. Andy Grotelueschen is endearing as Jack’s cow Milky White (he’s a very eloquent moo-er) and Jesse Austrian is an appealing Baker’s Wife.

There so much in Into the Woods – it’s about parenthood, and motherhood in particular (there’s at least one knowing, post-Leadsom nod to the audience), the monsters we build up and knock down, and the stories we tell ourselves and our children. The forest is a place of abandon and transformation, where wishes can on occasion, for better and for worse, come true. Fiasco’s production, while polished, sweetly-sung and charming, is alert to this richness and resonance.

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Charming, large-hearted and endearing ensemble production of Sondheim’s classic musical