Review: Into The Woods (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 18 – Apr 23, 2023
Book: James Lapine
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Marty Alix, Stefanie Caccamo, Peter Carroll, Tamsin Carroll, Andrew Coshan, Lena Cruz, Tim Draxl, Esther Hannaford, Shubshri Kandiah, Mo Lovegrove, Anne-Maree McDonald, Justin Smith
Images by Christopher Hayles

Theatre review

Truth always finds its way into the stories we tell, although the degree with which it is incorporated, varies wildly. Some truths are hard to bear, so we have them varnished and camouflaged. Other truths are easier understood, when disguised as something adjacent to stone cold facts. There is a danger however, that the human mind can sometimes do all it can, to evade truths that are too bitter, so we spare ourselves the cruelty, and fabricate nonsense for delusory alternatives that might be more tolerable, thereby circumventing any action that could help improve matters.

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods takes aim at the ways in which we explain the world to our children, urging us to consider how much protection to offer them, and how much real understanding we want them to have. By extension, it compels each of us to examine our own capacities to handle the rougher aspects of existence, and questions the veracity with which we navigate the more consequential challenges that inevitably arise.

Exuberant direction by Eamon Flack, along with a sense of indefatigable urgency that sets the pace, makes for a show that has us riveted and amused. A stellar cast brings not only great skill and talent, but also an inspiring sincerity, that draws us deep into the nuances, both sensorial and intellectual, of Lapine and Sondheim’s masterpiece.

Orchestrations by Guy Simpson reduces accompaniment to a couple of pianos, with mixed results. An inviting intimacy is achieved for the production, but the music can on occasion be insufficiently rousing. Fortunately, sound design by David Bergman supplements our need for greater drama, in moments where a more rhapsodic level of emotion is required.

Set design by Michael Hankin is fairly minimal in approach, with an abundance of gleaming black surfaces that deliver timeless visual sophistication. Costumes by Micka Agosta do not veer very far away from the vivid essences of characters as prescribed in the text, but several surprising and extravagant interpretations, leave a remarkable impression. DamienĀ  Cooper’s lights are in constant motion, meticulously and imaginatively illuminating the action, to create endlessly sumptuous imagery, whilst facilitating all the meaningful storytelling.

It is probably with a considerable amount of delusion, that people decide to birth babies into existence. Parents imagine that they can shield their offspring from all manner of harm, and further, they fantasise about creating futures that are brighter and altogether lovelier, in which their children can flourish. It is in moments of passion perhaps, that people forget the unrelenting suffering, intermittent it may be for some, that underscores all our days on this plane. They then dream up fairy tales and enchanting fables, to manufacture sweeter, kinder and more tender realities, for ears that will only be delicate for a short amount of time, before they too have to wake up, to all that is nightmarish, in how we have to traverse this mortal experience.