Back in the Woods

August 3, 2015 | By | Reply More

Æ’s young critics go Into the Woods

Edinburgh Playhouse: Fri 31 July/Sat 1 Aug 2015

Four young Edinburgh-based theatre critics will be reviewing for All Edinburgh Theatre this fringe, in a new mentoring scheme.

Before they hit the fringe this week, three of them were available to accompany Æ’s editor Thom Dibdin to the Playhouse production of Into the Woods.

Here are their reviews.

Into the Woods reviewed by Annie Bird

★★★★☆ Impressive

Intricate, magical and comical, the Edinburgh Playhouse Stage Experience’s Into The Woods thoroughly impresses with a professional feel achieved with such little time and so many cast members.

With 94 eleven-to-fourteen year-olds performing on stage, and a mere two weeks to complete their version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s popular musical, director Peter Corry has quite a challenge, one which he overcomes wonderfully.

The Baker and Red. Photo Stephen Clinton

Kieran Wynne and Olivia Hemmati. Photo Stephen Clinton

The musical follows multiple fairytale characters, including a baker and the baker’s wife (the extremely talented Kieran Wynne and Ellie Campbell), Cinderella played by incredible singer Heather McFarlane and Little Red Riding Hood excellently portrayed by Olivia Hemmati, on their journey into a large wood where their paths cross and their tasks become intertwined.

When it seems all their wishes have been granted, the characters have to work together to solve a huge threat to their land in the form of a giant, leading to equal measures of tragedy and comedy, as the characters try to reach their ‘happily ever after’.

Fans of the recent film adaptation of the musical might have had concerns about the creation of the giant who forms that huge threat. But the large ensemble cleverly create her character by appearing among the audience, shouting her lines in unison with a voice recording.

They also create much of the set by forming shapes of trees and flowers to create the effect of a woodland. However the constant movement of the ensemble can sometimes distract from the main action of the characters on the overcrowded stage.

All the 39 named roles are worthy of praise, but Zoe Moore steals the show as the Witch with a mature and absorbing performance worthy of one you might expect to see in the West End. The Baker’s Wife is also played with incredible talent by Ellie Campbell who will undoubtedly go far in the world of musical theatre.

The voice of Freya Hoppe, who takes on the role of Rapunzel, thoroughly impresses. However due to unfortunate staging she is hidden by the curtain to many audience members. Providing most of the comedy in the show is the Mysterious Man played by Scott Coltman, whose comic timing and use of voice are simply hilarious.

Some characters could be taken further. The Wolf is portrayed excellently by Gordon Horne with the perfect amount of creepiness, but the director could have more fun with the movement of the character. Horne goes on to deliver a delightfully funny and professional performance as Cinderella’s Prince later on, which is one of the best in the show.

Corry excels at creating a show which appears as if it has months of work put into it, and the choreography (Louise Ferrier) and staging, particularly in the finale is executed particularly well. Despite the occasional confusion of accents, the acting on the whole is very impressive. As is the whole production of The Playhouse Stage Experience’s Into The Woods.

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Into the Woods reviewed by Gregor Weir

★★★★☆ Magical

Edinburgh Playhouse’s Stage Experience impresses with its talented cast in their performance of Into The Woods. The spellbinding vocals, combined with enchanting acting, does the great script the justice it deserves.

“Once upon a time”, the time-honoured opening line to all fairytales, serves equally well in this plot-merging fairytale extravaganza. The plot combines Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and The Beanstalk and Rapunzel (plus a few more) and puts a fresh spin on stories we all know well.

The Witch (Zoe Moore). Photo Stephen Clinton

The Witch (Zoe Moore). Photo Stephen Clinton

The script and plot works well overall, although the second half drags somewhat, as the characters are having to work together to solve one problem, relieving some of the tension present in the first act that helped to keep the plot moving.

A stand-out performance is delivered by Ellie Campbell as the Baker’s Wife. Campbell perfectly balances wit and sorrow to create a woman desperate to lift the curse that had made her infertile. This strong performance, and the added layer of grief, lifts the show to a level that is difficult to achieve from a fairytale plot that screams pantomime.

Another excellent performance is given by Zoe Moore as the Witch. She attacks the role with energy that makes her stand out and gives the character an extra layer of life. It’s particularly interesting how Moore distinguishes between the “ugly old” Witch, and the “beautiful young” Witch, adjusting the character to be more gentle and slightly more kind after the transformation.

Furthermore, the heavenly singing voice of Freya Hoppé, as Rapunzel, hits every note with delicacy and lightness, just as would be expected of a princess role. Although, quite frustratingly, director Peter Corry sticks her on a tower right up at the top of the back of the stage, so that for many it is impossible to see where that golden voice is coming from.

It is difficult working with a cast of over 100. However, it would have been nice to see more movement sequences and use of the ensemble as more than just human props. However, the ensemble as the giant is creditable.

Into The Woods is made great by the hard work of the young people who have made it, displaying excellent vocals, great acting and lots of fairytale fantasy. It is a production to delight.

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Into the Woods reviewed by Jon White

★★★★☆ Energetic

Funny, slick and thought-provoking, Edinburgh Playhouse Stage Experience’s production of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods strikes a balance between the idyllic happily ever after and what really happens when the fairytale ends.

The boundaries between classic Grimm fairytales are blurred when Little Red Riding Hood (Olivia Hemmati), Jack (Ross Tucker) and Cinderella (Heather McFarlane) go into the woods following their well-known goals.

Some of the ensemble - Photo Stephen Clinton

Some of the ensemble. Photo Stephen Clinton

However, they are pursued by a seemingly ordinary Baker (Kieran Wynne) who under the instructions of the hideous Witch (Zoe Moore) must retrieve four objects in order to lift the curse she has cast upon him.

Director Peter Corry’s use of the ensemble is outstanding. He uses it to create the furniture and bring the set to life – even fulfilling the age old drama cliché of being trees. Corry chooses to have the ensemble in the auditorium to be the Giant, but with all the voices shouting at different times – and a distorted voice coming over the speakers – it is a strain to hear the lines. Nevertheless, the ensemble provides a slick, well-rehearsed base for the production.

Zoe Moore as the Witch has a great presence onstage in both the first act as the haggard, powerful old Witch and in the second after her transformation back to youth. Moore’s forceful manner is complemented well by the subtle brilliance of Ellie Campbell as the Baker’s wife. She performs with great timing and emotion to create a quietly pushy character similar to Lady Macbeth.

At the beginning of Act 1 the voices of both Jack and Cinderella feel strained but they quickly find their feet and produce excellent performances – especially Jack’s solo Giants in the Sky. Heather McFarlane makes Cinderella’s story one of the most interesting and real as in Act 2 she and her husband (Gordon Horne) become tired of royal married life. The airhead Jack grows on you as Ross Tucker’s performance progresses: his dopiness, general vacant expression and good heartedness make him a very endearing character.

A gem hidden in this production is Scott Coltman, who gives one of the most hilarious and generally enjoyable performances as Mysterious Man. From the moment the first strange rhyme comes out of his mouth he brings great energy and grabs your attention. Towards the end of the play the Mysterious Man and the Baker (Kieran Wynne) perform a duet of No More where Coltman’s excellent voice shines through.

Act 1 contains many humorous moments such as the appearance of the Three Little Pigs jumping out of the belly of the wolf which gives the whole thing a very light, happy atmosphere. Act 2 turns dark and, with the number of deaths involved, verges on a tragedy but the Act feels slightly off. Despite slick scene changes and a well-rehearsed company, Act 2 does drag.

An amateur company producing such a professionally performed production really is a showcase of the great community work being done at the Edinburgh Playhouse.

ENDS

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