Summer 2009 saw the talented Young Adult Performers stage a spectacular version of Sondheim’s notoriously difficult ‘Into the Woods’ to great critical acclaim!
The Janice Thompson Performance Trust performed Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods in the Pheonix Theatre, Swindon New College, on three occasions this weekend. In what must surely be one of the Trust’s finest productions the young adult performers displayed a professionalism which delighted the audience from start to end.
The strong casting resulted in an outstanding interpretation of Sondheim’s musical taking a sideways look at familiar fairy tales, and what happily ever after actually means. Jessie Thompson, as Cinderella, displayed both fine musical and acting skills in her sensitive performance, as did Stephanie Walsh as Jack’s Mother. Indeed performances across the cast were splendid from Ashley Green, as Milky White the cow, to Amy Cole as the Baker’s Wife, which starts to explain why this production was so professional. The singing was always unforced with clear diction and voices well balanced, and an example of this was the duet by talented Matt Fox and Dan Donachy, the two Princes.
The programme notes portray a cast with vast experience and training but in Jack Townsend’s case are still rather modest. Past knowledge of Jack reminds me he has been an understudy in the West End and once again his skills were apparent as he gave an outstanding, natural performance in his role as Jack.
Each performer deserves a personal mention but whilst this is not possible Sarah Covey cannot be passed by. Sarah did not just play the Witch, she was the Witch! She is a complete package. Her acting, singing and stage presence are all phenomenal and those of us lucky enough to see her this weekend may well see her again in a London theatre.
Oh! and Fran Smith was a wonderful Red Riding Hood (with attitude)!
INTO THE WOODS is one of the great modern musicals by Sondheim and Lapine; if it is not better known it is partly because it is difficult, though the Phoenix Theatre production by the JTP Trust Young Adults was so polished that you might not have guessed. The tight ensemble brought energy and vitality to every part; each fairytale character had a distinctive, strong personality that was fully thought through and understood; we became so fond of them that we really cared what happened to them. On its surface this was a tale of familiar characters. We met naively wishful Cinderella and her arrogant Prince (Jessie Thompson and Matt Fox) with hateful sisters and step mother (Natalie Chequer , Flora Thompson and Andrea Lockwood).
A comically feisty Little Red Riding Hood( Fran Smith) was wooed by a seductive wolf (Tom le Coyte) while in her humble cottage Jack’s longsuffering mother (Stephanie Walsh) had to cope with her amiably dim-witted son (Jack Townsend) who was trying to sell the cow (Ashley Green -wonderfully expressive without saying a word). We had a very scary witch (Sarah Covey) whose daughter Rapunzel (Catherine Welch) was one of life’s victims despite her glorious singing. Dan Donachy was the smiling prince who charmed her- and us. Throughout the first act everything was infectiously jolly, held together by Chris Coleman as the storyteller. When the honest and good baker (Ed LeCoyt) and his wife (Amy Cole) were desperate for a child, they were prepared to obey the witch and head off into the woods, and we all knew the storyteller would use all his magic (and the help of the Steward (David Casey) and birds, Ellie Fleet, Lucy Keogh, Ellie Kibbey and Jordan Loveless) to make sure it ended happily. In the second act the characters faced greater dangers, not least a terrifying giant (Vicki Prim-Sexton) unmoved by human concerns. This led us into the darker corners of the woods of human experience, so we along with the characters faced truths about our parents, our children, our wishes and ourselves. Everyone has something to learn from experience; it comes out in the trite platitudes of Hannah Masters’ Granny, in comic moments of happy realisation, and in unpalatable discoveries about pain, loss and desolation. The audience furtively drying eyes (yes me too) as the memorably catchy title sang tied up all the loose ends had learned a lot.
It looked good -the wigs were sensational. It sounded wonderful, with a polished pit band and well-drilled vocals. This show was funny, heart-warming, lyrical, powerful, entertaining, rich, thoughtful, complicated, deep and dark as the woods into which its characters were compelled to venture. INTO THE WOODS set a benchmark at the highest level – it is a good job vocal coach Janice Thompson and director Bob Hills demand such impressive standards.
Viv Hendra – June 2009