Following the success of the recent film, LUST (Liverpool University Student Theatre)’s choice of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods as their show this semester was guaranteed a jam-packed audience. And so it was. A challenging production, especially with the limitations of a student society, yet every possible obstacle was met with creativity and enacted by a fantastic cast. So, to begin at the beginning, on entering the Stanley theatre, before reaching the stage and seeing the minimalist, but well utilised set, the first thing one noticed above the excited chatter of the audience, was the sound of musicians tuning their instruments. It is a sound that tells you you’re about to see a great show.
For a show with such a strong and numerous cast, it’s easy to imagine that not everyone would be on form each night, but the stage was filled with a fantastic array of characters whom each performed brilliantly with skill and often, wonderful comic timing. The cast worked very well together during large ensemble pieces, intricately weaving in and out of each other and pulling off some fantastic harmonies. However, for me the stand out performer was Lizzy Hardingham as the Witch, whose rendition of ‘Stay with Me’ gave me goose bumps. Following in the footsteps of performers such as Bernadette Peters and most recently Meryl Streep, Hardingham phenomenal vocals ensured that the performance was not one to be missed. Anna Tucker’s performance as the indecisive Cinderella was also excellently executed and beautifully sung, as was Maddie Gradwell’s Baker’s Wife, who had the most naturalistic acting and subtle comic ability. Lizzy Paes also charmed the audience with her impressive vocals and knowing sass as Little Red. Not to be forgotten were the two Princes, whose cock-sure charm and horse related japes had the audience in stitches. They were brilliantly played by Peter Kinkaid (Cinderella’s Prince), whose superb physicality and voice was somewhat reminiscent of Zapp Brannigan, and Phil Teles Amaro (Rapunzel’s Prince), who had one of the best male vocals throughout the night.
With such a brilliant cast and well executed show, it was such a great addition to have a live band. It’s fantastic that LUST have such a brilliant ongoing relationship with LUMS (Liverpool University Music Society) as the musicians were fantastic throughout the performance and it added such a valuable extra element to the production. Moreover, the importance of the long anticipated new microphones for the performers could not have been more apparent, and the new mics allowed for a smooth performance in which (almost) everyone was heard.
One of the most impressive moments of the performance, was on hearing the thundering thumping footsteps of the giant, a flurry of performers rushed on stage and formed the shapes of the Giant’s face out of card. Congratulations should be given to whoever came up with such a creative and effective solution and to whoever sourced the fantastic cow puppet; for Jack’s Milky White, wonderfully handled by puppeteers Bonnie Widger and Andy Treacy. Cinderella’s dress too, was also a wonder to behold transforming from rags to a rich and elegant ball gown.
Having never seen Into the Woods on stage before, I may be getting a tad overexcited, but I really think that LUST have done a fantastic job with this production. The only thing that bothered me, were who I assume to be the crew members walking across the stage before the performance began. Unfortunately, it spoilt the magic for me slightly and detracted from the narrators Tom Doyle and Alice Meadows who were already on stage, dedicatedly in character, as the audience took their seats. Regardless, I very much enjoyed watching LUST’s Into the Woods and would strongly recommend it. Not to be missed.
Into the Woods is on again tonight (Friday 11th Dec) and tomorrow (Saturday 12th Dec) in the Stanley Theatre, from 7pm (doors 6:30pm).