Though set in a world of fairytale, there’s a grittiness to Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. There are enough dysfunctional families, strained relationships and paternity issues to fill of a whole season of Jeremy Kyle. It’s this idea that director Tim McArthur tapped into for his 2014 production in Walthamstow.
This revival is more ambitious in scale. The transfer from a thrust stage to in-the-round results in a few sightline issues but otherwise Joana Dias has adapted Gregor Donnelly’s original design perfectly for the Cockpit. Dias brings a distinctly urban vibe to her woodland. Stacked wooden palettes form Rapunzel’s tower and stepladders rising from a bed of woodchips lend height.
Jamie O’Donnell is a Glaswegian Jack and his relationship with Madeleine MacMahon’s garish, Gold Label-swilling mother provides comic relief. From the moment Florence Odumosu skips on as a scrappy Red Riding Hood, you know that the wolf is in for a rough ride, while McArthur, as the Baker, and Jo Wickham, as his Wife, drive the story forward emotionally with their need for a child.
In a stand-out performance Michele Moran brings genuine pathos to the pivotal character of the Witch, a woman fuelled by vengeance and made bitter by betrayal.
The USP of this production however is not the edgy design but the way the characters have evolved to become reality television stereotypes with the princes made into Chelsea and TOWIE siblings tormenting Cinderella. It’s a conceit that’s endlessly satisfying and creates accessibility without damaging the integrity of the piece.