Theatre Review: INTO THE WOODS – Royal Exchange, Manchester

INTO THE WOODS L-R Michaela Bennison (stepsister) & Gemma Page (stepmother) Photo: Jonathan Keenan

INTO THE WOODS L-R Michaela Bennison (stepsister) & Gemma Page (stepmother) Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Matthew Xia delivers a musical Christmas cracker at Manchester’s Royal Exchange with INTO THE WOODS

“Into the woods, into the woods!” And into the woods we certainly went!

Setting the scene for Sonheim’s amalgamation of fairy tales is Tony Award winning stage and costume designer Jenny Tiramani who has turned Manchester’s Royal Exchange round stage into a magical forest, both outside and inside the staging area, complete with pine canopy and magnificent trees that sprout from the ground.

Associate Artistic Director Matthew Xia debuts at the Royal Exchange Theatre with his modern day rendition of the multiple Tony Award winning show and boy does he deliver a musical Christmas cracker!

“This truly sublime musical explores the relationship between parents and children; desire, greed and how a community reacts to catastrophe. I’m interested in our contemporary connection to this enchanted woodland. I’ve assembled a world-class team and we’re inviting you into a magical forest, right here – in the middle of Manchester” says Matthew Xia

Bringing characters such as Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Prince Charming to life is a truly captivating and talented 18 strong cast led by West End actor Alex Gaumond (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde) as the baker who along with his single minded wife set off on a scavenger hunt into the woods to life an age old curse so they can one day have the child they crave!

Amy Ellen Richardson (Bakers Wife) and Alex Gaumond (Baker) in INTO THE WOODS. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Amy Ellen Richardson (Bakers Wife) and Alex Gaumond (Baker) in INTO THE WOODS. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Returning to the Royal Exchange following roles in productions of Sweeney Todd, Hamlet and Last Days of Troy is Gillian Bevan, her performance as the Witch steals the show with her twisted, gnarly appearance and a tongue sharper than Reece Witherspoon’s chin, she as us jumping out of our seats when she wields her wand and laughing out loud with her retorts.

Other standout performances come from the comedy teaming of Marc Elliot, Rapunzel’s Prince and Michael Peavoy, Cinderella’s Prince, who also plays the Big Bad Wolf. Two brothers who are constantly trying to outdo each other even if it is mostly in the agony stakes, they deliver the witty lyrics of Sondheim with tongue firmly in cheek.

Equally Peavoy’s Iggy Pop visually inspired Wolf character is darkly comedic, albeit quite a brief appearance. Congratulations have to be given for the scene in Grandma’s house, deep in the forest, off the beaten path and built between two oak trees.  I don’t want to give too much away regarding this part of the play as I think the surprise made the whole performance for the audience, but kudos to Xia for this imaginative idea, I’m still wondering how he pulled it off!

Maxine Peake (The Village, Dinner Ladies, The Masque of Anarchy) is the voice of the Giant. Big and booming she shakes the room with her rants of revenge.

Solid performances from the rest of the cast and an excellent musical direction from Julian Kelly, whether you have kids or not, treat yourself to some laughs this festive season!

5 out of 5 stars

Into The Woods runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester until 16 January 2016