Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I’m not nice, I’m just right”

Fiasco Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s evergreen Into the Woods was a big success over in the US and its actor-muso ethos seems ideally suited for this transfer to the Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s also an approach that pays dividends with the material, Sondheim and James Lapine’s interrogation of the world of fairy tales and what happy ever after really means.

Stripped back and doubled up, Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld’s fully actor-musician production makes a virtue of the communal spirit and really makes you notice how much of an ensemble show it really is. Not just in how each of the storybook characters get their chance to shine (or not, as the case may be) but in the relationships, of both family and friends, with which we surround ourselves, just to save us from those moments in the woods. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Stafford Castle

“Through the forest have I gone”

The impressive ruins of Stafford Castle make a grand setting for the Stafford Festival Shakespeare, now in its 23rd year, and for this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, successfully transported to a Victorian England of colonial conquest, starched manners and a healthy dose of Gilbert and Sullivan. An open air stage, with covered seating on three sides, expands up the grassy slope to the castle itself and is used highly effectively, whether for a royal procession to make a strong impact or a torch-bearing fairy horde to swarm over the hillside, a constant reminder that so much of this story is about the strange happenings that will ensue if you end up in a mysterious forest on Midsummer eve. 

Peter Rowe’s choice to set this in the Victorian era is an effective choice and one which works well across all the earthbound levels of the play. It makes a convincing case for the quarrelling quartet of lovers – Craig Fletcher (so very good in last year’s Boy Meets Boy) and Eamonn O’Dwyer all prim posturing and carefully rolled-up sleeves as Lysander and Demetrius, Jennifer Greenwood a spirited Hermia and a confident Georgina White coming close to stealing the show as an expressively comical Helena. And the Rude Mechanicals, led by Eric Potts’ bumptious Bottom, become a group of G&S-playing minstrels, the silliness of light opera suiting them perfectly as they build up to an extended musical version of Pyramus and Thisbe, which has to be one of the funnier treatments it has ever received.  Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Stafford Castle”