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Belvoir’s Into the Woods: ‘Best to take the moment present, as a present for the moment’

With a stellar cast, entertaining theatrical moments, and fascinating tales, Belvoir’s Into the Woods is a love letter to stories and how we tell them.

Photography by Christopher Hayles

I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant when I entered the woods — also known as Belvoir’s Upstairs Theatre.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was more than excited to be there. Having attended the Belvoir Briefing a few weeks earlier, I had heard from director Eamon Flack about how for him Into the Woods is a show about stories. The stories that we are given, the stories we tell, and the stories we use to understand ourselves and the world around us.

Flack’s interpretation of Sondheim’s classic was described as a lo-fi version brought to life with paper and cloth. This is a fascinating premise for a show that tends to require complex physicality to bring it to life. And that is how I ended up walking in, wondering how exactly this story would be brought to life.

Into the Woods tells the stories of the Baker’s Wife (Esther Hannaford) and the Baker (Justin Smith), the Witch (Tamsin Carroll), Little Red (Mo Lovegrove), Jack (Marty Alix) — of the beanstalk fame — and their mother (Lena Cruz), Cinderella (Shubshri Kandiah) and her Prince (Tim Draxl), and Rapunzel (Stefanie Caccamo) and her Prince (Andrew Coshan).

In an overlapping and intertwined journey, we follow these characters as they figure out what they want and what they’ll do to get it — including collecting a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold, and hair as yellow as corn. We are expertly guided through their stories by the Narrator (Peter Carroll), as he blurs the line between telling us the story and being part of it. As their stories progress, we wonder if they’ll ever make it out of the woods.

Flack’s Into The Woods is a production that rewards your suspension of belief. If you let yourself sit back and believe it all, the whole world unfurls in front of you. The cast and creative team have been what can only be described as truly crafty. Some cast members play multiple roles, effortlessly switching between each. I’m wary of spoiling what the spectacular — and often hilarious — solutions to the practical challenges of trying to fit three different houses, a tower, and a path through a forest into Belvoir’s easily cramped theatre are, so you’ll have to experience these for yourself.

The stage is set minimally but I have never seen the ceiling of a theatre used so well. A chance for spectacle is never missed. Between sprinkles of glitter to emphasise exits, dazzling costumes, creative transport choices, a man dressed as a horse, and ornate headdresses, you have to see it to believe it.

Notable moments include Rapunzel actually letting down her hair from the ‘tower’, a crooning wolf complete with a green feather boa (reminiscent of a certain Mr Styles), some very creatively used dolls, and for those observant audience members, a transformation of the houses used to represent each of the different storylines as they light up when their respective characters are speaking or singing. Act 2 brings with it the presence of a giant that the audience really feels.

Amidst the theatrical tricks, it is the cast that keep you enthralled. Esther Hannaford is truly spellbinding as the Baker’s Wife. From her incredible singing (just wait for her ‘justifies the beans’) to endearing choreography with the Baker (Justin Smith) in a stellar ‘It Takes Two’, Hannaford excels at creating a Baker’s Wife that is both strong and vulnerable. Tim Draxl and Andrew Coshan have cultivated Princes that are somehow both endearing and entertaining, and just that right amount of charming. Shubshri Kandiah is a compelling Cinderella, who makes you want to find the life that she wants — something in between a dream and a nightmare.

With a stellar cast, entertaining theatrical moments, and fascinating tales, Belvoir’s Into the Woods is a love letter to stories and how we tell them.

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