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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Into The Woods Review | The Royal Exchange | Manchester

“The woods are just trees; the trees are just wood.”

The Royal Exchange sends its audience skipping Into the Woods with a contemporary revival of the Stephen Sondheim 1986 classic.

When a wicked witch places a curse on a childless baker and his wife; the couple blend fables to find various fairy-tale characters recognisable items to form the ingredients for their baby.

The realistically revamped fairy-tale interweaves characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella for an offbeat musical that deals with themes of loss, betrayal, and death.

Olivier and Tony-winning designer Jenny Tiramani create an encroaching forest that surrounds the famously round theatre. With a narrator sitting amongst the audience and an eight-piece band filling in live sound effects, the production takes advantage of the enclosed space. It surprised its audience with characters appearing from all four entrances and levels of the theatre (as well as suspended in mid-air) to keep the play lively and engaging.

The story offers the best of both worlds. Act 1 invigorates its audience with well-known characters’ stories. Portrayed by a strong cast of eighteen, including Alex Gaumond as the Baker and Amy Ellen Richardson as his wife. Gillian Bevan as the Witch and Exchange Associate Artist Maxine Peake as the voice of the Giant.

Act 2 looks at the reality of what characters have done to achieve their wishes and how they have affected their entire kingdom. Asking, what happens after "happy ever after" in the real world? Into the Woods is far from a preachy children’s story, its subtext is a lascivious and subversive look into classic fairy-tale characters.

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