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REVIEW: Into the Woods (RCS, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)

Updated: Feb 11

5 December 2023

New Athenaeum Theatre, RCS, Glasgow


Into the Woods (Stephen Sondheim, BA Musical Theatre 2024, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)

Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical based on several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, is complex, clever and darker than you may expect. But then Grimm's fairy tales are more frightening than Disney would have us believe.

There are important lessons and themes at the heart of 'Into the Woods'. Principally, that choices have consequences. What impact does one person's 'Happily Ever After' have on everyone else? It's a fascinating concept and an inspired idea. No wonder it won James Lapine the Tony Award for 'Best book of a musical'.

With their new production of 'Into the Woods' the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have taken the classic fairytale musical and brought it firmly into the 21st century. The show opens in a small, modern-day bedroom with our narrator surrounded by books. He starts to tell us one of his tales: "Once upon a time..." We meet a baker and his wife who long for a child; Jack, who's best friend the cow Milky White, has stopped producing milk; Cinderella who wants to go to the King's festival; and Little Red Ridinghood who is taking sweets and bread to her grandmother. All of them need to venture into the woods to fulfil their wishes...

The walls are pushed back to reveal another world outside the confines of the bedroom. A massive, almost industrial set - an abandoned playground resplendent with creaking swings, a roundabout and slide. This urban landscape becomes the setting for the intertwined stories, and it works brilliantly! The failing streetlights, the dark corners where anyone could be lurking... It's inventive, exciting and lit perfectly to allow for those areas of darkness to creep on to the stage.

The concept is a stroke of genius from director Louise Shephard, brought to life magnificently by the BA Production students and stage management teams. Clever use of props and some very successful video all come together to create an altogether darker, modern, somehow more believable tale.

Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim, BA Musical Theatre 2024, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland December 2023.  Photo credit: Robbie McFadzean

Sondheim's intricate score would be a challenge for any company, but it's played expertly here by the world-class RCS orchestra. The lyrics are fast and frantic; the songs are almost spoken in places. I imagine it's one of the more difficult musical theatre books to sing, but the actors never missed a beat. As is to be expected from RCS, the whole company are impressive, and with so many magical and monstrous characters on stage, all of them have a chance to shine. And shine they do.

The costumes are clever: leather skirts and sequins, tracksuits and jean shorts - all modern attire, with subtle nods to the fairytale characters added here and there. The audience are never in doubt who is who.

The choreography is fun and slick. The movement of the whole peice is very well considered and performed. I loved the hand movements in the prologue song / Into the Woods, almost sign-language like for 'the King' etc. Expertly done.

Just before curtain up, the Director spoke with the audience to announce that they had suffered a number of technical issues in the run up to the opening performance, and as a result, they had not yet completed a full run-through of the show. Therefore, the performance I saw on Tuesday night was to be the first fully run show.

Honestly, I would never have known! There were a few minor sound issues with mics not being up when they should've been, but with so many actors on stage, this can be forgiven on a opening night. If there were any other issues, I didn't see them. Hats off to the full team; for a first run through it was an incredible achievement and it will only get better as the run progresses.

Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim, BA Musical Theatre 2024, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland December 2023.  Photo credit: Robbie McFadzean

'Into the woods' is not my favourite musical, but this production, this new interpretation of it (and the clever twist!) made me sit up and take notice. I enjoyed the score more than I ever have before, and I even found myself tearing up at the end during 'Children will listen'.

With an almost 3-hour runtime, the show does run too long for my own personal taste, and I don't find Act II as engaging as Act I. However this RCS production is as fine an 'Into the Woods' as you will see in the UK at the moment. It's impeccably produced and performed in collaboration between most of the programmes and schools at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. A true team-effort and an undoubted success.

Into the Woods plays at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's New Athenaeum Theatre until Friday 8 December 2023. Contact the box office for tickets:

📸 Production photos: Robbie McFadzean

Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim, BA Musical Theatre 2024, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland December 2023.  Photo credit: Robbie McFadzean


🌟 REVIEW: Into the Woods (Stephen Sondheim, BA Musical Theatre 2024, RCS, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) 🌟

🎟️ Disclosure: I was invited to review this show and received a complimentary ticket in exchange. Whether I am invited or not has absolutely no impact on my reviews or star ratings.

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Lisa in the theatre. Scottish theatre reviewer. UK theatre blog. Glasgow Theatre. Edinburgh Theatre. Scotland theatre.


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