Stephen Sondheim's 'Into the Woods'
impresses MIKE WHEELER
This is Derby Playhouse's third Stephen Sondheim show in as many years, following outstanding productions of Sweeney Todd and Company. Played out on an uncluttered, stylised set, Karen Louise Hebden's staging is every bit as good as its two predecessors.
We're in Panto-land, but with a modern, adult twist, as Cinderella, Jack (of the Beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood and others find maturity as they confront the fact that happily isn't guaranteed to be ever after.
One of the production's great strengths is the finely nuanced playing from the central characters, none more so than Glenn Carter (Robert in last year's Company) and Annette McLaughlin's beautifully subtle performances as the Baker and his Wife. Their Act 1 song and dance duet ('It takes two') is one of the show's highlights, as is her attempt to make sense of a romantic encounter with Cinderella's Prince ('Moments in the Woods') in Act 2.
Ian Lavender steps into and out of the action with quiet effectiveness as the Narrator and the Mysterious Man. Kim Criswell's Witch moves from gleeful malice to touching dignity as she accepts her own vulnerability, getting her tongue round some of Sondheim's tricksiest lyrics on the way without dropping a stitch.
Liza Pulman's Little Red Riding Hood is all Violet Elizabeth Bott-style sugar and spice at first, but don't take it for granted -- she can be handy with a knife when cornered. Tom Solomon's Jack does a nice line in dim, fearless innocence.
Copyright © 16 May 2006
Mike Wheeler, Derby UK