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I must start by saying that I am not a Sondheim fan, do not like Into the Woods as a show, but can appreciate the performances and in particular the stunning technical accomplishment to the production we saw.

The setting was spectacular, perhaps a little too large in some ways, but in the main it worked really well, and gave the cast plenty of levels to work on.  The lighting enhanced and created some wonderful effects throughout, the only small issue on the technical side was the occasional sound problem.

Beth Thomas had a very good sounding band – a little too loud in some places but very melodic, within the confines of Sondheim’s music.  Beth had also got the cast to bring some expression and meaning into sometimes rather crazy musical interludes! I particularly liked the accompaniment for ‘Agony’.

Alistair Brown is another of those insightful director’s who breathes innovation into everything he does, and the whole experience, whilst not to my musical taste, gave us interest and spectacle.

Lynette Driver’s choreography was entirely in keeping with the feel of the piece, and used the cast and their abilities to the full.

I loved the way Kat Knight gave the cow a life and expression of its own – very cleverly done, and the beanstalk was very well thought out.

Grandmother’s bed was another inventive prop, which worked so well, and added some humour to this rather dark fairy tale.

Adam Butcher and Andy Whalley as the contrasting Brothers Grimm, held the action together well, and Adam also gave us a rather camp Prince’s Steward, which was fun.

I liked David Mills interpretation of the Wolf, he leered at Red Riding Hood very nicely, and David was also a very charming Prince for Cinderella.  Andy Sizmur played Rapunzel’s Prince, and whereas the two created some good musical moments, I wanted there to be more contrast between the two, as I’ve always seen them as two very differing sides to the same coin.

Cinderella was played by Hayley Vaughan.  Hayley has a pure tone to her voice, but needed a little more energy in her acting of the poor downtrodden Cinderella, whose Stepmother and Stepsisters, played by Amy Hansford, Sadie McGreevy and Stephanie Overington were all nicely evil – loved the eyes and they way they coped with blindness!  I felt the Stepsisters could have been a little more extravagantly dressed to create the contrast between them and the other characters.

Jenna Ryder-Oliver was a very strong Witch, I liked the contrasts in light and shade she put into her musical numbers, and also in the change between the evil Witch and her counterpart.  Jenna always brings good characterisation to the parts she plays.  Last Midnight was very atmospheric.

Jamie Pritchard did well as Jack, I liked Giants in the Sky, thought it particularly suited his voice, a difficult part to get to grips with when there are so many large than life characters littering the stage, but he did well.

Emma Orr portrayed the slightly dim rather sly Little Red Ridinghood very well, good facial expression and very clear speech and song.  I liked the antithesis to the word ‘little’ with the eating of the cakes, but thought it should have been carried on throughout to finish the rounding off of the character.

Frances Hall gave the Baker’s Wife good depth, and sang it beautifully, I liked the flirtiness of her relationship with the Prince.

John O’Leary got good characterisation as the Baker, although I felt he didn’t always carry it through, but a big and very different part for him.  He seemed a little uncertain at times.

Jo Harris as Rapunzel accomplished her rather wailing music well, very tuneful – but I wasn’t entirely sure about the crash helmet!

Jan Robinson as Jack’s Mum was a very down-to-earth character, with Ciara McLoughlin, Kat Knight and Valerie Mills bringing much to the production with their portrayals of other characters.

The Company numbers were good, and there were some interesting harmonies, which gave the music life.  I felt the bows could have been a little more imaginative with all that lovely scenery to be creative on.

The Wolf’s costume was very good, as were the Princes, but I felt some of the others could have done with some flashes of colour, for example Cinderella’s ball gown was very bland and sort of disappeared into the background.

There is always something special about a production in St Andrew’s church, it has an atmosphere and ambience all its own, and overall I was impressed with the technical side and the performances, but not entirely with the show as such, no doubt coloured by my rather negative feelings for most things Sondheim (I will admit to liking a couple of his shows)!

St. Andrew’s Players


review date: 23rd May 2013

St. Andrew’s Church, Luton

Director: Alistair Brown  MD: Beth Thomas

Choreographer: Lynette Driver

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