Review: Into The Woods, Theatre Royal Bath

A largely strong set of performances can’t hide the directorial overload in Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman’s production of Into The Woods at Theatre Royal Bath

“I wish a lot of things”

A choice is made in going to see Into The Woods at Theatre Royal Bath. Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman’s production was initially scheduled for the Old Vic but was axed after staff raised concerns about comments Gilliam had made about trans rights, race and the #MeToo movement. The show has found a new home in Bath but that didn’t stop Gilliam undertaking a right-wing press tour leading on cancel culture whilst promoting a show that was still happening – the concept of consequences apparently difficult for those in their 80s. 

And am I a hypocrite for deciding to go anyway? Not wanting to miss a quality cast performing a show I like; nor the reunion of Audrey Brisson and Julian Bleach in the theatre where they delivered stonking work in The Grinning Man; can one appreciate the work done by a company whilst not co-signing to the viewpoints of their co-director… I don’t think there are any easy answers but I do think that there’s an individual choice to be made. As it turns out, it is not the only significant issue facing this production which presumably has ambitions of transferring into the West End.

Gilliam and Hausman are long-time collaborators in the world of opera and there’s a heavy sense of the opulence of that world being replicated here. Jon Bausor’s design aesthetic draws on ideas of a toy theatre into which several productions’-worth of ideas are stuffed. The overall impact is overwhelming to say the least as directorial flourish after directorial flourish dominates the staging to the point where you just end up inured to it. If I were to hazard a guess, I suspect there’s little saying no to Gilliam, even in the pursuit of trying to refine the artistic vision here. 

For there is fine work being carried out by the cast in this fairytale megamix with book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by the late Stephen Sondheim. Brisson’s Cinderella and Bleach’s mystery man both excel as do Nicola Hughes as the Witch and Lauren Conroy as Little Red Riding Hood and Alex Young continues a strong year as the Baker’s Wife. But there’s little sense of real emotion cutting through all the noise of this production – indeed lyrical clarity is constantly fighting against the latest focus-pulling flourish – and so it rarely makes you feel anything in the way that great musical theatre can and should. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Into The Woods is booking at Theatre Royal Bath until 10th September

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