Into The Woods

Date 8th December 2017
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Footlights Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Emily Oulton
Musical Director Charlie Perry

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

The tease of happily ever after is what keeps compelling us back “Into the Woods.” Quite possibly the most reinvented and reimagined contemporary musical on both the amateur and professional stage, I’ve seen many incarnations of this Sondheim favourite and rather excitingly not one has resembled anything of the others.

This title seemed to be the perfect choice for UMMTS. On stage, the cast were working hard and delivered the goods without question which reflected the standard I’ve come to expect from this impressive society. The majority of the principals, under the direction of Emily Oulton, brought fresh interpretations of their characters with an intelligent knack for revival, very favourable indeed though Emily’s attention didn’t seem to inspire any other areas of the production.

For a narrative which offers copious scope for a quirky and interesting presentation I cannot deny how vastly the evening was let down by its lack of visuals, we saw some good ideas being explored but we needed more of them and on a larger scale for a performance space of this size which was predominantly empty. More upsetting was the sheer quantity of technical setbacks. The sound operation was inexcusable, 90% of mic cues were missed on the performance I attended which was not only a discredit to the incredibly talented cast but a hinderance to the audience’s experience too. The lighting wasn’t much better with black spots and focal points in complete darkness during so many scenes.  

Despite the excellent portrayals being endured from the masses of this company, as a whole, this production was not the finest hour for UMMTS.

Musically, the presentation was good. UMMTS regularly treat us to a decent sized orchestra and this was no exception ably led by Charlie Perry. It’s always a pleasure to endure such credit to the music, giving it the utmost of priority. If you’re going to have your musicians on show it’s a good idea to remind them that they can be seen and to act appropriately whenever they’re not performing. Principal vocals made the strongest impressions and the storytelling during numbers was beautifully demonstrated on several occasions exposing the sentiment and irony of which Sondheim is so renowned.   

The principal characters had all been injected with as much feisty nature as they could be which is exactly the right approach for this piece, giving great zest to the proceedings. Georgia Brown, Freya Parry, Jessica Wiehler, Anna Toogood and Keira Battersby each delivered as the female principals with absolute gusto with Matthew Quinn, Jordan Jones and Hugh Beckwith giving excellent renditions from the gentlemen.

I understand how the idea would have come about to strip down and present a naturalistic (underplayed) narrator, however, it didn’t read too well as he portrayed a sort of diluted passion with no excitement or energy - a creative choice which I understood but which didn’t satisfy in this context.

This Brothers Grimm pastiche lacked flavour, it was excellently told but was let down by technically incompetent gremlins.