Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Into Victoria's Wood

It’s 21 years since I saw Into The Woods break new ground by bringing English pantomime to Broadway and twisting its neck, and this is the first production since that comes close.

Director Will Tuckett has lost none of the values in paring the show down to its bones for Covent Garden’s elegant but compact Linbury Studio, and the mirror-surrounded set and manually shifted scenery frame the stories as effectively as the 16-piece orchestra supports the clarity of diction and expression which make this production soar above its predecessors.

Flattening the characters’ vowels to an indeterminate “Northern” brings a Victoria Wood/Alan Bennett quality to their speech patterns which both Anglicises and endears them to a broad spectrum audience, many of whom clearly didn’t know the show of old.

Suzanne Toase stands out as a pert and plump Red Riding Hood whose bluff Yorkshire attitude suited the part in a way Sondheim probably didn't envisage, and Gillian Kirkpatrick’s enjoyably pivotal Cinderella reminded me of the mental posturing and facial expressions of Miranda Richardson’s Queen from Blackadder.

Singing Sondheim is difficult-to-impossible at the best of times, but in Into The Woods actors have the added frustration that the numbers are so often fragmented or truncated by the action. Singing is undeniably patchy: from the otherwise wonderful Anne Reid who struggles to make Jack’s Mother as lyrical as she is funny, to the blithe precision of Anna Francolini’s Baker’s Wife.

When given their head, though, it’s a treat to hear Clive Rowe add weight and resonance to “No One Is Alone” or Beverley Klein wring every emotion from a powerful but beautifully-shaded “Stay With Me”.


  1. Sorry we ran to catch the train last night - I really enjoyed the show, although the occasional musical mishap was frustrating. A shame it's only on to the 30th - my friend Mark would love it, but he arrives a few days later. I guess it's SideBySide for him.

  2. I have the 1980s Broadway production on DVD with Bernadette Peters et al - I love it! First saw it when they televised it on Xmas Day on the Beeb years ago. It's a wonderful musical and I love what Sondheim does with the whole fairy tale thing - the idea that in life there isn't necessarily a "happy ever after!" My favourite line is when the characters gang up on the narrator for his story-telling and the witch (the wonderful Ms Peters) says: "Some of us don't like the way you've been telling it"...

  3. Sadly when I saw it on B'way Ms Peters was having a tantrum or another holiday and had been replaced by Joy Franz as the Witch, but it was stunning. I didn't enjoy the original London production/Julia McKenzie half as much. This one at the Linbury captures the essence of the original even though Tuckett is too young to have seen it.

    My favourite line is "nice is different than good"