Review: Into The Woods – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
THERE is a saying ‘be careful what you wish for’, but I for one am extremely happy that my wish – that Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods would be staged in Durban one day – came true. Currently running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, KickStArt Theatre Company has again showed what can be achieved by ambitious dreamers and a dream cast and crew.
Disney’s film version of Sondheim’s dark musical was watered down, but there are no such concessions in this staging. Instead we are treated to story that brings together a host of familiar fairytale characters – Cinderella (Frances Williams), Rapunzel (Haylea Hounsome-Heyns), Little Red Riding Hood (Katy Nicole Moore) and others – in a tale without the traditional happy endings.
The magic begins from the moment the house lights go down, and the neat row of books standing on the stage revolve to reveal Cinderella in her kitchen, the Baker (Bryan Hiles) and his wife (Jessica Sole) in their bakery and Jack, of the Beanstalk fame (Graeme Wicks), and his mother (Marion Loudon) in their tumbledown home.
It is an ingenious set design brought to life by the talented Greg King and his team and once removed reveals a fantastic woodland in which roots appear out of books and a revolve allows characters to move along different paths in the woods.
Peter Court’s Narrator introduces the cast of characters central to the plot. Each has a wish. Cinderella longs to go to the palace and dance at the King’s Festival, a source of amusement for her nasty step-mother (played with relish by Liesl Coppin) and step-sisters, Florinda (Sarah Richard) and Lucinda (Leigh Meyer).
The Baker and his wife long for a child, but have not been able to conceive, Jack’s aging mother wishes for a lot of gold and a less foolish son and Jack desperately longs for his cow, Milky White, to provide milk so he won’t have to sell her.
When the Baker and his wife learn that their childlessness is the result of a curse placed on the Baker’s family by a Witch (played by an initially unrecognisable Lisa Bobbert), who was angry that the Baker’s father stole some magic beans, the desperate couple agree to find four items that she wants – a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold.
But their decision to go into the wood sets in train events where wishes do come true – at a cost. Their happiness has consequences and in the final act the characters are forced to band together to save their world from destruction.
KickStArt’s Steven Stead has wanted to stage the Tony Award-winning musical for many years and what theatre-goers get from him and the cast and crew is quite simply top quality theatrical entertainment.
King’s background in puppetry is used to great effect in the production when puppeteers, Brandon Moulder and Joshua Milne, appear on stage to bring Milky White, flocks of birds and the Wolf to vivid life.
Stead brings out the best in each member of the cast, who in turn deliver Sondheim’s challenging songs with aplomb.
Moore clearly has fun playing a feisty, and very greedy, Little Red Ridinghood, while Marion Loudon’s interactions with Hicks’ Jack are delivered with hilarious comedic timing.
I also loved Lyle Buxton, who plays Cinderella’s charming, but rather insincere, prince, and Nathan Kruger, who takes on the role of Rapunzel’s prince. Both actors are wonderfully over the top as they lament the problems they are having in securing their lady loves in the song, Agony.
Bobbert’s renditions of the numbers Stay With Me and Children Will Listen are delivered with a combination of power and haunting poignancy; and Williams’ beautiful voice is showcased in the songs On the Steps of the Palace and No One is Alone.
Hiles and Sole have great chemistry as the Baker and his wife, especially in the song It Takes Two, in which the couple realise that they cannot lift the curse without working together. Sole, who played Princess Fiona in KickStArt’s Shrek, the Musical, once more shows she is a talent to watch; while Hiles gets the chance to show theatre-goers his full emotional and acting range. They are quite simply a delight to watch.
But Into the Woods is ultimately an ensemble piece, and one which packs a very powerful punch. At its core this musical is not so much about fantasy as it is about reality. It is about a world where fictional giants and wolves have been replaced by real-life monsters: rapists, murderers, corrupt politicians who steal from the people they are supposed to serve and human beings who are seemingly incapable of caring about their fellow creatures.
Into The Woods also stresses that no-one is all good or all bad, that we are all full of shades of grey; and it underlines the fact that tolerance and understanding are needed in a world where these are in short supply. Life, in short, is not a fairytale.
KickStArt’s production delivers all this in a stunning visual package – thanks to the efforts of costume designer Neil Stuart Harris and lighting designer Tina le Roux.
So, if you love good theatre, then do yourselves a favour and get down to the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and watch Into The Woods. It’s the perfect wish come true. – Estelle Sinkins
NEED TO KNOW
Into the Woods is at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until Sunday, May 1.
Performance times: 7.30 pm on April 20, 21, 22, 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm on April 23, 6 pm on April 24, 7.30 pm on April 26, 27, 28, 29, 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm on April 30 and 6 pm on May 1.
Tickets are R120-R200 for adults and R100-RR150 for children and pensioners. Book at Computicket.
Please note that despite its fairytale characters, this musical is aimed at adult audiences, and is not suitable for young children. PG eight years old.