Into the Woods | Harvest RainLeft – Rhonda Burchmore. Cover – Eddie Perfect and Kimberley Hodgson. Photos – Nick Morrissey

Is there any more evocative an opening line than, “Once upon a time”? Harvest Rain’s production of Into the Woods, currently playing a QPAC, starts here and jumps into its fairy tale setting with the appropriate gusto, weaving a tale full of magic, laughter, suspense and music.

A twisted take on fairy tales, this “Love Actually” of musicals sees the combination of classic stories such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and more spliced together to great effect. With witches, princesses, giants and magic beans, these “children’s stories” are bought to the adult realm with wicked humour and a few stabs at modern day life.

Harvest Rain have cast their show with a host of must see performers. Australian stage royalty Rhonda Burchmore plays The Witch, her mere presence on stage energising the audience, while Eddie Perfect takes the lead role of The Baker, presenting a very Aussie version of this everyman role. Other cast were not overshadowed by the big names, though, with Kimberley Hodgson shining in the role of a wickedly funny Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Oliver capturing the persistent naivety of Jack perfectly and Jacks’ mother played Penny Farrow with a performance full of heart. Director Tim O’Connor should be congratulated on the cohesiveness of characterisation of each performer, which was a great strength of the production and made for entertaining viewing.

There were times when scenes seemed static, with performers grouping together mid-stage for moments of heavier dialogue, which gave the Lyric Theatre’s ample stage space a feeling of being overcrowded. With many levels and hidden nooks and crannies, the set may have been used more dynamically to further engage the audience and showcase the performers’ physicality. It was a very visually appealing show to watch, though, with the orchestra peeping through the scrim backstage and floor to ceiling trees, which could be made to look both welcoming and imposing, creating the woods.

Audiences who are familiar with the musical will know that the show is split into two separate acts, each containing a full narrative. The second act takes a darker turn than the first, exploring the after in the “happily ever after” proposed at the end of Act One. In this production, the energy and humour in the actors’ performances was not much altered between the acts, making the darker stories and the lessons of Act Two jar against a world inhabited by the same cheery characters who led us through the first half of the performance. There was room to go deeper here, and while Act Two was still chock full of wonderful moments, such as a beautiful rendition of No One is Alone, it would have been interesting to see the cast given the opportunity to be more emotive and explore the characters’ journeys more fully.

Into the Woods is an entertaining show, and Harvest Rain have nailed this aspect in this production. While some elements could be fine-tuned, it would be a rare audience member leaving the theatre without a smile on their face after attending this humorous, fantastical musical.

Harvest Rain presents
Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine

Director Tim O'Connor

Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC
Dates: 1 – 4 Oct 2015
Tickets: $119 – $69

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