“Does the puzzle come together,
piece by piece and row by row?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know
Where the fucking pieces go!”
OK, so the above quote isn’t from Sondheim’s Into the Woods (it’s from the also brilliant Next to Normal) but it’s fitting given the master’s fondness for puzzles, mysteries, and games: many of Sondheim’s shows exhibit jigsaw symptoms of layers and lyrics which come across as confusing on their own but come together to form a large, intricate whole. Into the Woods is very much in this vain, following on from Sunday in the Park with George in its use of linked but largely self-contained acts to illustrate a thematic whole on the childhood lessons provided by fairy tales. It's a deep show that is constantly engaging the audience from one direction or another, and multiple viewings or some quality time with the cast recording are needed to do more than scratch the surface.
To be honest, Into the Woods isn’t in my top three Sondheims (those would be Sunday, Sweeney, and Forum with Company a very close fourth) but that’s like saying Phish Food isn’t my favourite flavour of Ben & Jerry’s. I still like it, and it’s excellent stuff, but odds are good that I’ll buy a pint of Half Baked first. And, being a show which has plenty of cast recordings and an official DVD out of the original production, chances are good that regular theatregoers have previously encountered Into the Woods at some point and already have an opinion of it.
The production at Upstairs at the Gatehouse is surprisingly high-end for a Fringe production, featuring a cast of 11 well established actors - four of which double as musicians - plus TV comedian Paul Nicholas appearing through occasionally glitched but generally well done interactive video, the production is an effective demonstration of how to stretch limited funds.
And thankfully, the implementation is largely successful - Cinderella blowing the birds’ line on the flute is somehow appropriate - if not slightly gimmicky when an actor-musician is interacting with someone poking an arm through a moving projection. It says a lot that while I felt the show dragged towards the end, there wasn’t anything I could specifically point to and say “I’d change that” and even actors who didn’t immediately impress me had their moments when I could appreciate the casting. I also suspect that patrons on the thrust’s sides on busy nights may find themselves with a less than ideal view.
tl;dr: It’s a hard show (like most Sondheim) to perform at the best of times, and it's being done as well as a 120 seat venue can hope for, even if the Graduion thought the staging needed to be more metaphorical.
Where: Upstairs at the Gatehouse
When: Until 1 Feb. Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Su @ 16:00
How Much: £12-15 unreserved depending on the day
Concessions: £10-12 depending on the day
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12 will get you a seat on any night but Saturday.
RZ Other Notes: You can also get tickets for £10 on lastminute. This is the last time I’ll review a Gatehouse show here - I like the venue and the shows they do, but it feels like it’s hard to maintain the professional distance needed to review productions here clearly when you get drinks with the show’s director and one of the venue’s owners after..