That’s not to say that I don’t see some innovative and original stuff, but something altogether different from anything I’ve ever seen before? Very, very rare.
Enter stage left(field), the Fiasco Theatre Company. An American (where else?), actor led company, Fiasco have rocked up to the Menier Chocolate Factory with a transfer of their extraordinary - in every sense - production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.
And I have just never seen anything like it.
To say this production is stripped back would be something of an understatement. There is no scenery, no orchestra, minimal props and costumes. The eleven-strong cast play multiple parts, provide all the music and sound effects and create the scenery. Most strikingly of all, Sondheim’s rich score is distilled down to its bones, played on a single piano with support from the various instruments the cast play. It sounds so beautiful, completely fresh and utterly magical.
The way that the company work within these confines is remarkable. The use of a handful of props to create so many different characters and story threads is brilliant. The way that ‘special effects’ are created using basically nothing is incredible (the shadow show that creates the death of the giant is particularly beautiful). Each of the multiple parts that each actor plays is wonderfully brought to life with the change of perhaps one item of costume, a change of accent and a smile.
After a while you start to wonder what the fuck other musical productions are doing with all of their sets, costumes and fancy ornamentation. And still not resulting in anything half this wonderful. This production is all about the music and that is such a revelation.
The other thing this production about is pure, sheer joy. You can tell that every single member of Fiasco’s company loves this show and loves performing. The wonder of putting on a show like this in a venue as teeny tiny as the Menier is that the audience is close enough to really be able to appreciate that. Though quite honestly I think you could put this company in Wembley Stadium and their joy would still shine through. And I would argue that at the moment we could all use some more joy. There’s hardly a surfeit of it around.
That said, this version of Into the Woods isn’t the Disney version. It is dark, it is sad and it is tragic. The way the more sombre moods are portrayed through the music is heartbreakingly beautiful.
I would normally now list the performances that I particularly enjoyed but this is a genuine ensemble piece and I particularly enjoyed every single person’s contribution. All eleven cast members are incredible. I refuse to believe that there is a more hardworking or more talented cast anywhere in theatreland. There just can’t be. They act, they sing, they dance, they move props around, they play instruments, they direct the production (well two of them do); I’m surprised they didn’t sell the programmes and ice creams as well. And they enjoy it so fucking much, which really is rather more revolutionary than it should be.
I can’t praise or proselytise about this production enough. There aren’t the words for it. Go and see it yourself and I guarantee you’ll fall as much in love as I have.
Into the Woods plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 17th September.