Interview: West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining on directing Into the Woods

Into the Woods

TSOTA’s Rich Jevons talks to West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining about directing Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

What in particular appeals to you about Stephen Sondheim?

James Brining: I love musicals because they deliver a complex and complete experience. It is a combination of story, dialogue, dance and music. What I really admire is the intelligence in Sondheim’s writing. It challenges you with these quite profound ideas that he is exploring and there is wit in his writing. But that does not mean that is does not have real emotional attraction as well. So you get the best of all worlds. It is an impactful emotional piece with real intelligence and style.

What can we expect in terms of design?

I think the costumes will be quite gorgeous – we are trying to deliver it on that level with maybe what people would expect. It is about fairy tale characters but they are all quite lifelike so it will be colourful and vibrant. With the physical environment I think this emphasises the fact that we have all been children and some of us are parents. But it explores the way that adults treat children so we have created a context in which there will be some children in the story.

James Brining, director of Into the Woods at West Yorkshire PlayhouseHow does it feel to be in partnership with Opera North?

It is great to have two arts institutions in the city working together like this and I have got a lot of respect for the company and them as artists as well. It is partly fortuitous because they are doing the new Ring Cycle which does not have a large amount for their chorus to do. So it was an opportunity to think what can we do with the chorus and this is a piece I’ve wanted to do for some time. It is like a happy accident. We are really enjoying working with them and their technique and quality of performance.

How did you go about casting?

I’m quite used to thinking about the strengths people have and thinking about where to place them in a show. So I was advised by Opera North as to who would be good in certain roles vocally specifically good for a part.

Can you tell us about the narrative of the piece?

In fairy stories there is always this thing of happy ever after. What the play is really exploring is that that is a fantasy, there is no such thing as that neatly tied-up ending. Nothing is ever really that easy to conclude in life. So what Sondheim does is he takes very well known fairy stories – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. He puts these stories together and adds in a new one as well about and his wife who want a child. He brilliantly interweaves these stories and at the end of the first half it is as if everything was neatly tied up. But of course the second act explores what would happen after the happy ever after. The answer is that it is not as simple as that. Zooming out from that it tells us about the stories we tell young people. What do we tell them to help them navigate the world.

7 to 25 June 2016 at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.