Review: Into The Woods, Ye Olde Rose and Crown

“The way is clear
The light is good”

Last night I saw some great fringe Sondheim and late last week I saw some of Grimm’s Tales brought to life and so in the natural coincidental way of things, tonight’s show combined both of those. Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods sweeps up a collection of those fairytale characters and asks the question what happens after happy ever after. And in Tim McArthur’s re-envisioning for All Star Productions way up north-east in the Walthamstow pub theatre Ye Olde Rose and Crown, it gains a surprising cultural relevance.A big budget Hollywood adaptation may be on its way over the Christmas period but McArthur looks closer to home for inspiration, to the kind of popular television programming that clutters the schedule these days –Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, Jeremy Kyle ad nauseam – plus throwing in all manner of other modern references, Wills and Kate and the ubiquitous selfie. But somehow it does all hang together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, this motley crew bound together by the richly complex score and book.

McArthur has assembled a fine cast of both old hands and new who largely run riot with the characterisations. Paul Hutton and Jo Wickham are at the centre of the storm as the kindly Baker and the Baker’s Wife whose desperate desire for a child anchors much of the drama but around them swirl such delights as Tim Phelps hooray-henry Prince, Emma Ralston’s vibrant Little Red Riding Hood, and Hugh O’Donnell and Sarah Waddell as a vividly Glaswegian take on Jack and his mum.

It’s all so well sung (thanks to Aaron Clingham’s musical direction) and so well designed (by Gregor Donnelly) that the cast of 17 flow effortlessly around this tiny stage and it really does work extremely well. Whether a deliberate choice or not, Helena Raeburn’s Witch seems to blend into the ensemble more than one might have expected, especially post-transformation, where the role is normally given more prominence but one really does have to get very picky to find much wrong with this. If only the film could be as good.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 31st October

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