THE Company Youth Music Theatre are performing Stephen Sondheim’s scary fairy tale Into The Woods. With just three performances it’s a catch if you can showcase of young British talent, a chance to see British youth at its best in a different field than the one we’ve been watching all week.
Into The Woods gathers together some of our best loved fairy tales and interweaves them into an entertaining plot. At the end of act one all is well and the characters expect their pursuits to lead them to be happy ‘Ever After’; it is an American musical.
Sondheim musicals are demanding, and often quite a stretch for amateur companies, but The Company are at the top of the game.
But the happiness isn’t to last and the second act develops the consequences of the lying and cheating that allowed their wishes to come true. Eventually the characters learn the importance of community, and the reality that life can’t always bring unmitigated joy, even when we get what we’d wished for.
This production tells the story with great clarity, vital where the story and characters’ behaviour depart from our childhood knowledge of them.
There are some stand-out performances. Megan Gilbert is perfect as Little Red Riding Hood, a mixture of childhood naivety, selfishness and generosity, ready to embark on new adventures. Rebecca Ridout sings and acts the Baker’s Wife superbly, convincing in her determination and momentary lapses. Cinderella is sweetly sung by Samantha Andrews while retaining the questioning approach to life that Sondheim credited her with. Kitty Murdoch makes a fine witch, growing in stature throughout the performance. Josh Noon is a convincingly hesitant baker, careful and thoughtful while Rupert Henderson brings a mix of vulnerability and bravado to the role of Jack, mildly reminiscent of Corrie’s David, but rather more endearing.
Rapunzel’s prince and Cinderella's prince are written as brothers, and here played by brothers Andy and Chris Morgan. Convincing posh boys, their duet, ‘Agony’, is a highlight.
In more minor roles Iona Crampton and Robyn Hunter as Cinderella’s sisters Florinda and Lucinda, ugly in character rather than appearance, are consistently entertaining. Local lad Alex Koktaylo in the difficult role of the Wolf should come with a health warning to all young ladies in Tyldesley.
Into The WoodsSondheim musicals are demanding, and often quite a stretch for amateur companies, but The Company are at the top of the game. Previous Manchester productions have drawn rapturous reviews, and their 2009 production of Merrily We Roll Along, another Sondheim gem, at the Dancehouse Theatre, rivalled professional standards.
The cast, age 13- 23, is chosen from national auditions and the show is put together with the assistance of West End professionals working across just 10 days of school and college holidays. Initially the tight rehearsal schedule and lack of preview performances show in some missed lighting cues and lack of vocal confidence, but after the first 30 minutes the quality shines through.
The ensemble playing is a great strength of The Company. Into the Woods has great ensemble songs and the producers have found further opportunities to play to the strength in depth of the cast. The narrator role, normally a one-actor job, is split into a task for many story-tellers; the supporting cast play the role of Cinderella’s friends the birds and also smoothly form parts of the set as trees or grandmother’s bed. They also provide the best back end of a cow I’ve seen.
In fact the versatility of the cast allows them to perform in venues far less technically advanced than The Lowry’s Quays Theatre. The short rehearsal schedule and limited budget doesn’t allow The Company to begin to explore the facilities on offer here. This is one reason why I preferred their production of Merrily We Roll Along in the more limited facilities of The Dancehouse Theatre; there the substitution of cast talent for technical and set effects was a triumph borne of necessity whereas at The Quays it’s still impressive, but you’d like to see them have scope to use the facilities more.
The story-telling wins through here, partly because the production pays real attention to the minor characters who are crucial to the plot, and partly because a youth group is so conscious of how the choices we make can shape us; they clearly portray their characters’ ‘journey’ to use a modern term for a timeless concept.
Members of The Company Youth Music Theatre perform Stephen Sondheim’s Tony award-winning Into The Woods at The Lowry from Thursday 9 until Saturday 11 Aug at 8pm.
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