Last night was my third visit to Blackfriars Theatre, Boston, where I saw the BOS Musical Theatre Group performing the American musical fantasy, ‘Into the Woods’. The whole evening could have been a disaster though; having arranged to arrive in Boston early for some food before the show, my husband and I were just about to leave our Lincoln house just after 5pm when I noticed the tickets said 6.30 start with doors opening at 5.30 – the early start had completely passed me by, so keeping within the speed limits (of course) we made good time and arrived in the car park at about 6.15 after picking up my ‘theatre buddy’ Dawn on the way. We got to the theatre just in time (although the curtain was already up), and as we were taking our seats a cast member came onto the stage, wondering around, looking like he was trying to find something… I didn’t realise at first he was part of the show, but it turns out he was the Narrator and he went on to set the scene, describing the four fairy tale wishes that were the base of the story…
I didn’t know anything about the story and I hadn’t seen the film so I had no preconceptions. All I knew was that it had ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in it and that the music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim; a favourite with a lot of musical theatre fans with him responsible for the brilliant show Sweeney Todd and writing the lyrics for both West Side Story and Gypsy.
In the words of the Chairman, Rob Barclay in the programme, ‘This is a complex show…‘ and he is absolutely right. From the very opening number in Act 1, I could see that this was going to be a fast paced production; the musical was completely different to anything I’ve seen or heard before, but once I settled down into the whole ‘Into the Woods’ vibe, I was totally hooked. For the whole show I was on the edge of my seat, not knowing which way to look; there was so much to look at my head must have been darting from left to right (sorry to those sitting behind me!); then having to look upwards when a beautiful haunting voice came from ‘the tower’, and then behind me as the cast made full use of the whole theatre and another bewitching solo melody from the middle of a tree… delightful!
When I usually write reviews, I mention the few stand out performances of those in lead roles, but in this production, all the cast were in ‘lead roles’ and on the stage a lot of the time, and so I don’t just want to single out one or two cast members. Every single person on stage did a spectacular job, both vocally and theatrically so I have included a cast and crew list at the end of this review, as they all deserve a special mention. Their voices and theatrical interpretation left nothing to fault, and I applaud the whole cast for their professionalism and obvious hard work.
The set design, costume and whole theme of the show was in fact, Steampunk… I spoke to Kei Bailey, the Director, immediately after the show, to understand whether his Steampunk theme was ‘normal’ for this production having never seen it before, and was surprised and delighted to learn that this was a BOS Musical Theatre Company special! It was Kei’s idea to go with the Steampunk theme, and I have to say it was genius! The bowler and top hats, feathers frock coats, dresses and leather straps all looked authentic and just belonged.
Jo Warrick (Assistant Director/Designer) says in the programme, ‘I find the mix of Victoriana and Fictional technology inventions that are prominent elements of this style fascinating and can create stunning looks… To try and explain Steampunk in a few words is hard as it has evolved into many sub genres, but think of the writings of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells and you’re almost there.’
The set and the costumes were ingenious, and well designed. I loved the use of detailed layering of different materials in contrasting colours and textures, the steampunk set designs and machinery (including the innards of the cow ‘Milky White’) and the simpler costumes of some of the more human characters, with just a few hints of the overall theme. It all fitted perfectly and I was quite surprised to find out this theme wasn’t always used in this show.
I’ve seen and reviewed shows that have had great dance and movement elements, but to create a totally spellbinding performance such as this, the choreography had to have been brilliant. Clare Allen, the Choreographer, worked wonders with the complex music that had lots of very fast, syncopated rhythms and along with the hard work of the cast, made sure every single movement and gesture were made with precision, both individual and the group choreographed numbers, all absolutely spot on. I was mesmerised!
David Hallgate, the Musical Director, called this show, a ‘cacophonous musical‘; that’s a great way to describe what can also be explained as vocally rich, and many times poised somewhere between melody and dissonance. There were wonderful strains of pure musical sweetness, followed over and over again by the contradictions of discord and purposeful harshness of the syncopated speech and extremely fast ‘tagged’ vocals. The cast must have rehearsed and rehearsed because everything gelled together brilliantly and no-one seemed to falter throughout, despite the complexity of the harmonies and rhythms.
I was surprised to find so much humour and comedy throughout the production. There were some moments that had me laughing uncontrollably and I have to mention the songs that gave me the most laughs, ‘Agony’; sung by the two princes (especially the shirt ripping episode – we won’t forget that in a hurry Christian and Rob!), ‘Moments in the Woods’, sung by the Baker’s wife, and ‘Your Fault’; sung by the giant survivors. I particularly loved the bed – brilliant!
I loved the whole show, (just in case you hadn’t noticed); it was one of the best shows I’ve seen since starting to write reviews in this blog, and I’m urging anyone that hasn’t got a ticket yet, to buy their ticket for one of the remaining shows (Tuesday 25th April through to Saturday 29th April – with matinee show on Saturday). If you love theatre, musicals, steampunk, or just want a brilliant night out, you won’t regret it!
Cast – In order of appearance
- Matt Brown – Narrator
- Rachel Rowett – Cinderella
- David Taylor – Jack
- Matt Barnes – Baker
- Helen Graves – Baker’s Wife
- Natasha Connor – Cinderella’s Stepmother
- Kim Sands – Florinda
- Jen Sands – Lucinda
- Kate Sydney – Jack’s Mother
- Lucy Freeston – Little Red Ridinghood
- Andrea Townshend – Witch
- Ben Gilbert – Cinderella’s Father
- Katy Tabor – Cinderella’s Mother
- Trevor Fenton – Mysterious Man
- Julian Warrick – Wolf
- Clare Allen – Rapunzel
- Christian Slingsby – Rapunzel’s Prince
- Abby Johnson – Granny and the Giant
- Rob Callaby – Cinderella’s Prince
- Sam Simpson – Steward
- Kelly Anderson – Milky White
- Director – Kei Bailey
- Producer – Helen Graves
- Musical Director – David Hallgate
- Designer – Jo Warrick
- Choreographer – Clare Allen
- Set – Julian Warrick, Steve Dickons and Stephen Clark
- Lighting Design – Alan Aldous
- Props – Jo Warrick, Steve Dickons and Matt Barnes
- Costume – Jo Warrick, Emily Westland and Matilda Wyatt
- Marketing and Publicity – Audrey Young and Stephen Brown
- Programme – Robert Barclay and Chris Cook
- Photography – Neil Watson
- Stage Manager – Nicole Moore
- Sound – Alan Aldous
- LX – Ashley Pope
- Flys – Callum Thursby
- Spots – Rowan Druce and Matilda Wyatt
- Crew – Amy Ash, Natasha Townshend, Caroline Hooray and Audrey Young
Synopsis (from programme)
In the realm of fairy tales, a host of familiar characters, each confess their deepest wish. Cursed by a witch, the Baker and his wife long for a child but cannot conceive, Jack desperately wishes his cow, Milky White, would once again provide milk so he doesn’t have to sell her, and Cinderella dreams of attending the King’s Festival and someday being free of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters.
When all their quests lead them into the woods, their stories, and the stories of other fairy tale characters become entwined, resulting in dreams coming true and wishes being granted.
However, their happiness has consequences, and the aftermath of their actions force the characters to band together to save each other and their kingdom.
Buy your tickets by clicking here for the remaining shows.