Regents Park Open Air Theatre is a naturally brilliant setting for Into the Woods. The stage seems to have sprung up from the surrounding trees in a tangle of wood and metal like a mistreated Sylvania Families play set. It’s a tree house any kid would long to play in.
There are few songs from Into the Woods that you would get away with at karaoke but that ain’t no bad thing. Sondheim is a tricky little beast. Brits seem to feel more at ease with the potted pop that Andrew Lloyd Webber hammers out, where the hit songs from the show sit easily in the singles chart. If you’re looking for something hummable, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Into the Wood features one of Sondheim’s best scores. Interwoven and complex, melodies grow organically from one another making the relatively lengthy 2hrs 30 zip along at a raring speed.
The humour of the show is brilliantly sent up, tongues firmly in cheek throughout. The cast seem to be having a great time on this show, none more so than Michael Xavier. He is helped by having the juiciest roles; the bit of rough wolf fresh from a snack at Smithfields, and a conceited prince, channelling a touch of a cyber goth Russell Brand on his best behaviour. Xavier thrusts and bounds his way throughout the show, his buoyancy matched with superbly witty vocal performances. His scenes are a real highlight in a fantastic production.
There has been a lot invested into the smaller details of the show. This is where Digital Theatre comes into its own. Sitting comfortably at home, you’ve got the best seats in the house and get to have a good old stare at Cinderella’s nose ring or the brilliantly gruesome plucked out eyes of the Prince.
The charming hotchpotch nature of it all begins to unravel towards the end of the story. The cameras appear to have difficulty capturing the quick turns of the story against the on-set of night and the previously sharp quality of the recording diminishes.
Just as The Sound of Music would be a much more tune-filled and pacey story if you cut out the faff with the Nazis, Into the Woods could end quite neatly at the close of the first act. The grimness of Into the Woods doesn’t take centre stage until the second act but this is sadly underwritten with a creeping sense of déjà vu with numerous reprises. It’s a minor niggle, one more rooted in the score than in the perky staging on offer here.
A smart addition to this production is in the casting of a young boy as the Narrator, which adds a real emotional heart to the fantastical fairy tales. When the boy’s make believe story starts to riot against him, the stakes are raised all the higher.
Into the Woods is a fantastic addition to the Digital Theatre library . Point your telly out the window, hook up a couple of speakers and kick back in the garden with Pimm’s. Though no match for enjoying the actual performance under the stars, this is a fun and impressive piece of digital theatre crying out to be enjoyed in the open air.
You can download Into the Woods from Digital Theatre, find out more here.