438254743 906554921483164 4779789035741647905 n

‘Into the Woods’ // Williamstown Musical Theatre Company

If you haven’t seen ‘Into the Woods’ before, it starts off very comforting and inviting. We follow a baker and his wife as they interact with the well known stories of ‘Cinderella’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and ‘Rapunzel’. Act 1 uses a farce structure and is very faithful to the Grimm source material. Act 2 is melodrama, and takes the characters to unfamiliar territory.

‘Into the Woods’ premiered on Broadway in 1987, and was revived in 2002 and 2022. It fast became one of the most produced shows in the world, thanks partially to the junior version, though this is most definitely NOT the junior version. Disney then made a live action movie adaptation in 2014, with an all star cast led by Meryl Streep. It is heavily focused on themes of parenthood, but also touches on adversity and, as if a claim to its relevance, has a rather interesting take on the bear debate currently raging on social media.

Director, Shaun Kingma, incorporates several components that have been seen before. The dialogue incorporates the minor changes that were made for the 2002 Broadway revival; and the set design, also by Kingma, has a similar wedge shaped, rotating centerpiece as the original Broadway production, which works to give a different feel to different sections of the woods. The arboreal elements of the set were quite foreboding, leaving little to be changed as the tone did. At times, it feels like Kingma’s vision may have benefited from a larger space. Aspects of the set caused occasional visual obstructions to some of the audience, which is a challenge in such an intimate space. Early in the piece, it also appeared as if the cast had been instructed to play to the non-existent nose bleeds, though this settled down as the tone of the text did. 

Daniel Jow’s lighting was appropriately moody, and helped focus the attention of the audience where necessary. Jack Neill was credited with Speciality Lighting, which may refer to the lighting effects at the end of the song ‘Last Midnight’. The moment was affecting, but perhaps not effective, as audience members were left uncertain of what had happened to the Witch. This was resolved later by her proximity to another character, a good moment of visual communication, that this writer will remain vague about for plot reasons.

Louise Parsons’ costumes were suitably fairytale, and it was notable that characters that may have traditionally only been given one costume, still had the opportunity to make a change. At one point, there was an awkward attempt to cover the fact that one character wasn’t wearing the colour mentioned in the script, and at other points, opportunities were missed to use creative costuming to minimise the impact of performer tattoos. 

Tyson Legg and Stephanie Powell lead the story as the nameless Baker and his Wife. They did a good job of conveying the tension in their relationship from the start. Powell had a tendency to lean more into anger over frustration, but won the audience over with the subtleties of ‘Moments in the Woods’. Legg’s Baker was understated, letting emotions out when needed.

Despite having less stage time, Natasha Bassett’s Witch character is generally considered the lead. She was appropriately callous, while effectively differentiating the two sides to the Witch. Stephen McMahon and Jake Turner-Clarkson ate up the stage as the two princes, most effective while bouncing off each other, almost literally.

The whole cast was well suited to their roles, and performed with a high standard musically. There were two particular scene stealers that need to be highlighted. The first is credited to Bavette Le Blanc, but I suspect her profile in the program (“Australia’s go-to bovine chorus girl”) might not be entirely true. I think I’m safe in crediting the performance of Milky White the cow, to the Puppet Designer Dean Pearce, who took heavy inspiration from the 2022 Broadway production, and to Milky White’s Handler, Rachel Rai, who brought life to a prop that is often an afterthought. At first it was a little distracting, as there is so much going on during the prologue, but Rai was genuinely charming (and sincere) during the song ‘It Takes Two’, and broke the hearts of the audience twice, once in conjunction with Tim Maguire as Jack.

The second scene stealer came to a head in a moment akin to a mid credits sequence in a film, and again came without a word, as Robert Harsley, in a usually thankless role as Cinderella’s Father, made himself known for the last time after the curtain calls.

It’s easy to forget, when staging a show like Into the Woods, that there are people experiencing it for the first time, and sometimes experiencing theatre itself for the first time. Even if one young patron and her father had to cross the stage to escape when things became a bit intense, every new theatre goer is a win. This production doesn’t break new ground with an innovative concept, and nor should it. The art is in the text. The job is to present it, and the opportunity to innovate is in the little moments. And this production does that well. 

‘Into the Woods’ performs until Saturday, 18 May 2024 at Centenary Theatre, Williamstown. For more information visit their website.

Related Articles