Assembly Halls Edinburgh August 13th 2017
I am a great fan of the work of the students from RCS. Over the years the casts, production values etc from every show have all been of consistently high levels and so it was again with this current Edinburgh Fringe show. This enthusiastic ensemble threw everything at this complex Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical based on the coming together of several Brothers Grimm fairytales. The four main strands comprising characters from Little Red Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack & The Beanstalk circled around a baker and his wife, cursed to being childless by a wicked witch living next door to them, as they set out to gather items to lift the curse such as a cape as red as blood, a slippers as pure as gold, hair as yellow as corn and a cow as white as milk. Yet all was not happy as they take you down to the woods. Sticking quite closely to the relative troubled darkness which underpins many of the Grimm characters from a personal stand point I would suggest that this is very far away from being a show that you could take young children to. These characters are a world away from the singing birds and dancing dwarves etc found on Disney celluloid interpretations. They would be very confused. Here in the woods you will find infidelity, double dealing, torture, envy, greed, murder, agoraphobia and yes elements of paedophilia as the human condition is explored and indeed exposed. Now we come to the vexed question of the actual musical numbers. I confess to not being familiar with these “songs” before hand which for the most part are not ones which you find yourself humming as you walk down the street later. Oh no these are very complex pieces of narrative and almost conversational in style which is another reason not to take young children. You have to really concentrate fully and full praise to the ensemble for getting their heads and vocal talents around these numbers. It seems churlish to pick out particular performers but I really enjoyed Abigail Stephenson (Little Red Riding Hood), Beatrice Owens (The Witch), Maxine Aquilina (The Baker’s Wife) who most definitely came into character after her encounter with one of the princes. It was most fortuitous to have two talented twin (?) brothers Péter and András Horváth cast as the playful and amoral princes. So even though I did not particularly warm to the story or the musical numbers I did enjoy the show as it challenged us to possibly realise that it is our desires that control us and not the other way around and proves that anything can indeed happen in the woods even woods you think you know well. Sondheim’s lyrics with their adult themes reach deep inside us. So be careful what you wish for as there are no automatic happy ever afters. Along our path through life there are always big, tall, terrible giants in “the sky” setting traps to challenge us. So, Into The Woods is very much a parable by which we can measure ourselves and the standards to which we hold our moral compasses.