In to the WoodsReview by Ben Cherry
No Walls Creative Arts is a relatively new theatre company, set up to give the opportunity to talented actors in the local community to perform in West End shows. As someone who is interested in the arts, I am aware of how difficult it is to get involved in opportunities such as this, so it is refreshing to see a theatre company that is as talented and definitely far from amateur.
Into The Woods is No Walls’ first production and it is a brave choice. The show isn’t the most famous and in my opinion isn’t exactly the most loved either, but a lot of the classics have been done to death at this point so it was a bold choice to move away. I hadn’t heard of Into The Woods prior to the 2014 Hollywood film version, which I had enjoyed so I was curious to see how the story would translate on stage.
The original Into The Woods production debuted in 1987 and the story intertwines the plots of arguably the most well-known of fairy tales. In the musical we get to see Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel interact, tell the classic stories they are famous for and see the consequences of the actions the characters take.
As the production is No Walls’ first and as it was the opening night, I expected there to be some first-show jitters but I was pleasantly surprised that there were no nerves on display here among the performers. Due to the musical being effectively an ensemble where there is no ‘leading’ character and every actor got their moment to shine. The key players were particularly strong: Jamie Ingram and Jessica Bailey played the Baker and the Baker’s Wife and displayed some great chemistry together. The Baker probably has the most interesting character arc and Jamie Ingram made the most of his character’s progression in the story to build on that. Sean Wills was very entertaining as Jack, he generated the most laughs and somehow made me genuinely care for the fate of a wooden cow. Kathryn Djemai and Louise Gellar also did some exceptional work as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella respectively.
Despite the main players having a lot to work with, the supporting actors were not without material and frequently stole the show: none more so than Carol Thirlby who played Jack’s mother. My partner and I both agreed that she was a standout character for us. I also thought Jemma Smith rose up to the challenge of taking on Meryl Streep’s role as The Witch and Sam Spears showcased some great comic timing as Cinderella’s ridiculous Prince.
The production values of the show were outstanding. The set design was ambitious, professional and there was always something interesting to look at. The props, sound and other special effects were also put to good use.
In spite of the limitations of it being a stage show, the threat of the Giant was not any less effective than the Hollywood counterpart. It is very much a show of two halves, to me the first act was almost the ‘Disney’ version of the characters as we know them best. The second act however, is much darker and is a stark reminder that some of the original Brother’s Grimm fairy tales weren’t so pleasant.
There is a lot to recommend with this show and having seen some less that professional local productions in my time, I was relieved that this one was the complete opposite. It was clearly made with a lot of passion and you can tell that Director Sam Pomeroy and Musical Director Mark Sidey, (who also performs in the show) wanted to make the best possible adaptation of this ambitious musical. Last but not least the band performed Sondheim’s complicated music beautifully and even got a separate applause from the audience after the curtains had closed. When the show started I had the film in the back of my mind, by the end of it I had completely forgotten about the film and had a brilliant night at the Devonport Playhouse.
In to the Woods is showing at Devonport Playhouse until the 27th May.
Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/nowalls