Opera Review: Into the Woods – ‘spellbinding and immersive’

Dean Robinson as Baker and Louise Collett as Baker's Wife. Photo Manuel Harlan

Dean Robinson as Baker and Louise Collett as Baker’s Wife. Photo Manuel Harlan

Leeds’ premier creative companies Opera North and West Yorkshire Playhouse have joined forces in this new production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, an epic folk opera. When you enter the auditorium you are struck by Colin Richmond’s incredibly evocative design that transforms itself during the course of the fairy tale narrative. The plot takes popular fairy stories – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel – and mixes them in with the baker and his wife cursed to be without children unless they fulfil the wicked witch’s demands.

The vocals are brilliantly sharp throughout and the children ensemble are particularly noteworthy under the teacher/narrator Nicholas Butterfield. For these kids in a primary classroom it is World Fairy Tales Day and they are immersed in the action as it takes place around them. For the Opera North chorus they are really exploring new territory and definitely outside their comfort zone but performing with aplomb.

Gillene Butterfield excels as Cinders and the cast carry the pace forward with irreverent wit and comic capers. But there is also a disturbance of the Happy Ever After utopia with a scary second act that includes a giant doll come to take revenge on the errant earthlings. James Brining, already with a sensational Sondheim show under his belt in Sweeney Todd, succeeds again with a spellbinding and immersive operatic experiment that leaps from the Playhouse stage to both amuse and astound.

Reviewed by Rich Jevons 0n 8th June 2016. Runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 25th June 2016.