“It was very funny. It was very good. The leaves were very slippery.”
This is the opinion my flatmate proffered of Just So Society’s production of Into the Woods, directed by Caelan Mitchell-Bennett. She went to see it after I persuaded/forced her to come to the second showing with me after I saw its opening performance. Yes, that’s right: I loved it so much that I paid money to see it again the next night.
Then again, it always had a good chance of winning over people who are in fact 12-years-old at heart. The show follows a host of our favourite fairy-tale characters – Cinderella, Jack (of the beanstalk-climbing variety) and Red Riding Hood to name a few – going into the woods, where they are all thrown together in a variety of wonderful ways, all while competing with “High School Musical” for the best weaponisation of collective nostalgia this semester.
The main plot revolved around the Baker and his wife who were searching for the items that would lift spell put on their family by the evil witch. The action all took place on the floor of the StAge, which was covered with the aforementioned “slippery leaves”, with two low wooden platforms with ladders on them placed at either end of the space, and a wooden post stood in each corner wrapped in leafy garlands which then stretched into the ceiling. The opening night also featured a hemp-like fabric taped down onto the floor. Its sudden disappearance on the second night might be to blame for a couple of dramatic spills on the loose leaves (well done to Miles Hurley as Rapunzel’s prince for a spectacular recovery).
Within this enchanting space, the performers all gave practically foot-perfect performances. It helps to have songs written by Sondheim, but every musical number was choreographed and performed with a perfect balance between energy and control. Some highlights include the mind-blowing 10-minute-long opening sequence; Jack’s (Guy Harvey) magical and whimsical “Giants in the Sky”, complete with twirling blue umbrellas to represent the clouds; and “Agony”, wherein both Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s princes (Coggin Galbreath and Miles Hurley) lament their “it’s complicated” relationship statuses with powerful vocals. As well as Galbreath and Harvey, other standout performances include the Baker and his wife (Daniel Jonusas and Millie Proust) who held the show together, and Hanna Lawson as Red Riding Hood with her infectious sense of fun and impeccable comedy.
Most impressive however was how hysterical it was: hardly a minute passed without a bout of belly-laughs from the crowd, and the jokes were just as good upon re-watch. In particular, Matthew Patton as the “Mysterious Man” provoked howls of laughter as he thundered out of the room after each cryptic line, running like some kind of oversized crab with somewhere to be (yes, this is the best way I can describe it). Every character had their comedic moment to shine, and they all took it.
The only major issue with the production was a technological one. The orchestra played wonderfully, never missing a beat, a cue, or a note (as far as I could tell); but they largely drowned out the performers. Even during dialogue, you couldn’t hear lines said with the performer’s back to you. I’m not sure if this was an issue with the microphone quality, the volume of the microphones or something else, but it is a simple issue that makes months of rehearsal useless, since half the audience can’t even hear the dialogue so carefully written and delivered. It’s also an issue that plagues most student productions that use music here, so I’m going to continue to harp on about it until it’s fixed.
Nonetheless, I loved this production of “Into the Woods” with all my heart. It makes all the difference when you can see that the performers are genuinely enjoying what they’re doing, and both the comedic and musical aspects were beyond impressive. It all just about makes up for the fact that I’ve had songs about giants, curses and festivals running around my head ever since. I might just have to go into the woods to relive all the fun an hour and half with our favourite fairy-tale characters can bring…