THIS is as much Stephen Tearle’s Into The Woods as Stephen Sondheim’s wickedly witty Broadway show in a fusion of York and New York imaginations.
Sondheim rooted his 1987 Broadway musical in a grown-up twist on the Brothers Grimm stories that casts a new light on such familiar fairy-tale frequenters as Cinderella (University of York student Rebecca Jackson); Beanstalk-climbing Jack (Jack Hambleton); a skipping Little Red Riding Hood (CAPA College and PQA York student Missy Barnes/Rowntree Players panto regular Mollie Surgenor); Rapunzel (Juliette Brenot); Snow White (Elizabeth Farrell) and The Wolf (Ryan Richardson, looking not unlike Sam Smith in their Gloria tour get-up).
James Lapine’s book for Sondheim’s songs centres on the plight of the Baker (Chris Hagyard) and the Baker’s Wife (Perri Ann Barley), a childless couple seeking to lift the curse placed on them by a once-beautiful Witch (a towering performance from Pascha Turnbull).
Venturing into the woods, they must search for the ingredients that will reverse the spell: a milk-white cow (Erin Greenley, in white jeans and boots), hair as yellow as corn (from Rapunzel); a blood red cape (from Little Red Riding Hood) and a slipper of gold (from Cinderella).
Here they will encounter the fairy-tale folk, each on a quest to fulfil a wish, and into the story come the likes of Cinderella’s Prince (Sam Richardson), Rapunzel’s Prince (Kristian Barley), Cinderella’s Mother (Rebecca Warboys) and the Ugly Sisters, Florinda (Ali Butler-Hind) and Lucinda (Morag Kinnes).
Sondheim steers a path away from pantomime into terrain altogether darker, behaviour worsening, human foibles bursting through, enchantment turning to disenchantment, living unhappily ever after until the denouement. Steve Tearle nudges the playing style back towards panto, without changing the fruitier post-9pm-curfew content.
He also introduces a young ensemble to swell the company ranks to 50, playing woodland birds and forest dwellers in pointy ears, who gather at Tearle’s feet in his role as string-pulling Narrator and Mystery Man too. He plays free and loose with the script, interjecting adlibs in his north-eastern accent in the manner of a Dame Berwick Kaler pantomime.
Sondheim’s style is deadpan, even noir, as well as being witheringly witty, as paraded in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street too. Tearle’s style is broader, tongue pushed into the cheek in pursuit of “highly camp fun”, typically expressed in the performances of Richardson and Barley’s Princes and Melissa Boyd as Jack’s Mother, although Missy Barnes’s Little Red Riding Hood on Thursday night had something of the Wednesday Addams about her.
In a “big” joke, Helen Greenley’s diminutive Giant’s Wife arrives in massive platforms and a startlingly deep, echoing, discordant voice – compared by one audience member to Mr Blobby – that brings to mind the Wizard Of Oz at the moment he is exposed as a fraud.
Hagyard and Perri Ann Barley play it closest to Sondheim’s tone, while Pascha Turnbull, regularly cast as “larger than life, formidable women”, takes on the bewitching role she has “yearned to play for many years”, combining the show’s most powerful singing with her suitably domineering presence. Not for the first time, Jack Hambleton stands out as one of York’s rising talents.
Scott Phillips conducts his musical forces with glee and oomph aplenty; Adam Kirkwood’s rainbow palette of lighting complements Tearle and Faye Richarson’s woodland setting with its camouflage gauze and three rotating scaffolding towers, forever on the move, whether occupied by Jack or Rapunzel or whoever.
The fabulous costumes, designed by award-winning Ashington fashion designer Paul Shriek, go with the many shrieks that pierce the sylvan night air.
Experimental, experiential and wildly ambitious, amber-gambler Tearle’s Into The Woods heads deliriously into the weird. It certainly brings a smile, but would the late Sondheim take Tearle’s tribute as a compliment? We shall never know.
Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
SHAKESPEARE all shook up, a trio of musicals, a singular Magic Number, orchestral Potter and Tolkien and rocking Goths put Charles Hutchinson’s week ahead in good shape.
Dance show of the week: Strictly Ballroom The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees
STRICTLY Come Dancing champ Kevin Clifton is joined by Dancing On ice runner-up and Coronation Street soap star Faye Brookes in Baz Luhrmann’s Australian romantic comedy musical.
Directed by Strictly’s Aussie-born judge Craig Revel Horwood, it follows rebellious ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Clifton) as he falls out with the Australian Federation and finds himself dancing with Fran (Brookes), a beginner with no moves at all. Inspired by one another, this unlikely pairing gathers the courage to defy both convention and families. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Festival of the week and beyond: York International Shakespeare Festival, various venues, running until May 1
THIS festival’s fifth edition combines more than 40 live events with others online, taking in international, national and York-made performances, talks, workshops, exhibitions and discussions.
Look out for the Kyiv National Academic Molodyy Theatre, from Ukraine, performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (April 28); Flabbergast Theatre’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth (April 26); artists from Poland, Croatia and Romania and Tim Crouch’s exploration of King Lear in a post-pandemic world, virtual-reality head set et al, in Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel (April 29). For the full programme and tickets, go to: yorkshakes.co.uk.
Soundtracks of the week: The Music Of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit and The Rings Of Power In Concert, York Barbican, Monday, 4pm; The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert, Monday, 8pm
THIS brace of concerts has been rearranged from April 6 to 24, both featuring a symphonic orchestra, choir, star soloists and an original actor. The first, a two-hour matinee celebrating the music inspired by the work of J R R Tolkien, spans the threatening sounds of Mordor, the shrill attack of the black riders and the beautiful lyrical melodies of the elves.
The second showcases the Harry Potter film soundtracks by John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat, complemented by music from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child stage show. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
“Petty, narcissistic and vengeful psychopath” of the week: York Shakespeare Project in Richard III, Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee
PHASE Two of York Shakespeare Project, projected to run for 25 years, is launched with former British diplomat Daniel Roy Connolly’s modern-day account of “the York play”, Richard III, set amid the frenetic, calculating and brutal politicking of the House of Commons.
“Telling Shakespeare through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the country, the play explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown,” he says. Harry Summers leads the cast. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights.
Low-key gig of the week: An Evening With Romeo Of The Magic Numbers, Fulford Arms, York, Sunday, 7.30pm
O ROMEO, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo Stodart on Sunday night? The lead vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter of indie rockers The Magic Numbers will be in lonesome mode at the Fulford Arms. Expect Magic Numbers gems and equally magic numbers from 2011 solo album The Moon And You. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.
Bewitching show of the week: NE in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee
STEPHEN Sondheim’s darkly witty musical is a grown-up twist on the classic fairytales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack And The Beanstalk, here narrated by NE director Steve Tearle.
After the curse of a once-beautiful witch (Pascha Turnbull) leaves a baker (Chris Hagyard) and his wife (Perri-Ann Barley) childless, they venture into the woods to find the ingredients needed to reverse the spell. Encounters with all manner of fairytale favourites ensue, each on a quest to fulfil a wish. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Musical premiere of the week: Gus Gowland’s Mayflies, York Theatre Royal, April 28 to May 13, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees
THREE into two will go when York Theatre Royal stages the world premiere of resident artist Gus Gowland’s musical Mayflies, wherein he explores how people present different versions of themselves in relationships and how it can then all come crashing down.
Three actors, Nuno Queimado (May), Rumi Sutton (May/Fly) and Emma Thornett (Fly), will alternate the roles, with each pairing offering a different perspective on the relationships within this contemporary love story, traced by Gowland from first flourish on a dating app to the last goodbye in person. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Goth gathering of the week: Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival Spring Gathering 2023, Whitby Pavilion, Whitby, April 28 and 29
BACK in black in the home of Dracula, Whitby’s premier gothic music and alternative arts festival returns with headline appearances by Cold Cave (April 28) and New Model Army (April 29) and a Friday club night into the early hours by Leeds living legends Carpe Noctum.
The Friday bill features a rare performance from American goth rock special guests Christian Death, alongside sets by The Rose Of Avalanche and Siberia. Saturday features special guests Lebanon Hanover, Ist Ist and The Nosferatu. Box office: ticketweb.uk.
INTO The Woods go York musical theatre company NE as they present Stephen Sondheim’s wickedly witty musical at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from April 25 to 29.
The New York composer and lyricist rooted his 1987 Broadway show in the Brothers Grimm stories, in a grown-up twist that cast a new light on such familiar fairy-tale frequenters as Cinderella, Jack of Beanstalk fame, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, but this is no time for pantomime.
Instead, with a book by James Lapine, the story is centred on the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, a childless couple seeking to lift the curse placed on them by a once-beautiful witch.
Venturing into the woods three days before the rise of a blue moon, they must search for the ingredients that will reverse the spell: a milk-white cow, hair as yellow as corn, a blood red cape and a slipper of gold. Here they will encounter the fairy-tale folk, each on a quest to fulfil a wish.
The tale will be narrated by NE director Steve Tearle, who also takes on a second role as “the Mysterious Man”. “We chose to do Into The Woods as a tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim. It’s a very different show, which I was lucky enough to see on Broadway in the 1990s, though I missed the star turn, Bernadette Peters, as she was on her day off!” he says.
“I loved it! It was so, so funny. High camp comedy really! I put it on the backburner to do, but a couple of years ago we applied for it – before Sondheim died in November 2021 – and we were meant to be doing it last year.
“We’re so happy we now are as it’s a fantastic musical comedy for all ages with its wonderfully inventive re-telling of some of the Brothers Grimm stories, where Sondheim was thinking, ‘let’s bring out the child in the adult’. Being a family-driven company, it fits in perfectly with our actors from six years old.”
Steve’s New York trip has influenced his production. “When thinking about the set design, I took inspiration from the original Broadway version,” he says. “I wanted the audience to feel like they were also inside the woods, so we’re using rainbow colours and various styles to bring the woods to life.
“Befitting such an epic musical, we have an amazing set design and fabulous costumes, designed by award-winning Ashington fashion designer Paul Shriek, which we’ve managed to buy second-hand for our show. The finesse to Adam Kirkwood’s lighting is phenomenal too.”
The cast plays its part in setting the scene. “We have more than 50 people in the show, and the ensemble really are the set, becoming the woods, so the woods are interactive. It’s a movable set that changes as the show moves through the three simultaneous stories that blend together,” says Steve.
“We’re making the set a lot more personable to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, making it ‘fit’ the theatre and more experiential, so that everyone there will feel part of the woods.”
Steve’s show will be knocking down theatre’s ‘fourth wall’, the imaginary barrier between cast and audience, several times. “The Narrator has his own posse of children in the ensemble, and they work with him in these fabulous break-out moments, like when we stop the show when he loses the book or he freezes everybody because he’s in control of everything.
“That’s like pantomime, but it’s all done with more serious overtones as – spoiler alert! – the show does feature deaths, as well as blood pouring out of a slipper, a toe being cut off and a heel shaved off. We’ll use a sausage for the toe and ham for the heel!”.
Chris Hagyard and Perri Ann Barley lead the NE cast as the Baker and Baker’s Wife, while Pascha Turnbull casts a spell on the audience as the Witch whose curse is the cause of the culinary couple’s woes. Rebecca Jackson plays Cinderella with Sam Richardson as her Prince; Molly Surgenor and Missy Barnes share the role of Little Red Riding Hood; Juliette Brenot is Rapunzel, with Kristian Barley as her Prince.
Further principal roles go to Ryan Richardson as the Wolf; Jack Hambleton, aptly, as Jack; Melissa Boyd as Jack’s Mother; Effie Warboys as Sleeping Beauty and Elizabeth Farrell as Snow White Farrell. “Helen Greenley may be the smallest member of our NE team but she’s playing what you might say is the biggest role,” says Steve. “She’s the Giant’s wife, wearing these massive platforms.”
Steve is as proud of his cast as ever. “There are no professionals in the show; we do it for the love of theatre, and we just embrace people and what their capabilities are. We have cast members in the ensemble who have hearing difficulties and are partially sighted,” he says.
“I like to think we give opportunities that other companies wouldn’t give, and we love encouraging confidence among our young performers. We very much wanted to have them in the cast; some had never heard of Sondheim, but they definitely love him now!”
NE [once short for New Earswick, the company’s origins, but now denoting New & Exciting] present Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 25 to 29, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
CASTLE Howard’s winter installation, Into The Woods, A Fairytale Christmas is drawing record numbers.
After the frosted, icy spectacle of Christmas In Narnia last winter, Charlotte Lloyd Webber Event Design and The Projection Studio have returned to transform North Yorkshire’s stateliest home’s grand rooms into a “wonderland of happily-ever-afters, fair maidens, magical forests and faraway kingdoms”, bringing cherished fairy tales to life with a sight-and-sound combination of theatrical installations and state-of-the-art soundscapes.
“All around the house, tales which have drifted through the forests of our memory since early childhood now weave amongst each other to conjure up the world of once-upon-a-time,” say Nicholas and Victoria Howard in the visitors’ guide.
“Reinvented again and again, these fairytales are as much a part of our heritage as the walls of this house and its towering dome. Their names alone are enough to plunge us into the warm milk of childhood memories.
“Weave your way through this magical fairytale world and who knows? Maybe you’ll live happily ever after your visit to a Christmas like no other.”
Creating A Fairytale Christmas’s world of fantasy, inspired by Stepehen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into The Woods, is the work of a multi-disciplined team, headed by artistic director/interior designer Charlotte Lloyd Webber and design director Adrian Lillie, co-directors of CLW Event Design.
Senior designer Dave O’Donnell, sculptor Mandy Bryson, model and prop designer Mark and the floristry team of Laura Newby and Celina Fallon play their part.
So does the Production Studio duo of video projection designer Ross Ashton and sound designer/audio artist Karen Monid, whose light and sound installation Platinum And Light illuminated the nave of York Minster from October 20 to 27 this autumn, just as their Northern Lights installation had done so in October 2019.
Charlotte and Adrian have known each other for 25 years – originally as an actress/producer and costume designer respectively – and have overseen the magical winter transformations of Castle Howard for six years.
“This gig came about slightly by accident,” recalls Adrian. “We’d come up to do some outdoor Shakespeare, but the programme planning changed. Victoria [Howard] then said, ‘we need someone to design a Christmas installation. Do you know anyone who could do it?’. We thought, ‘well, we could’!
“That first year, we were very conscious of taking it back to the house’s roots, to architect John Vanbrugh’s theatrical roots. We used a lot of dry floristry and delicate fabrics, and we soon found we needed a lot more ‘product’ as it can be sucked up in such grand rooms.
“Year on year, we lay on more and more, and so Into The Woods is our most ambitious installation yet.” Be it Rapunzel’s tower looming over the Great Hall, where her golden braid offers an escape route; Jack’s giant beanstalk, winding its way around a steel construction up to the roof of the Garden Hall, or the 20,000 baubles glittering in room after room.
“We use ‘filler’ from the previous year’s story, like on the China Landing, where the materials have been used before, but with a new top layer created for the new theme,” says Adrian of a scene where the mirror forms the archway into the woods.
“We still re-use items from the first year; we use paper and silk, we avoid plastics, so we’re always thinking about sustainability. For the last four years, the big Christmas tree had come from Scotland but to discover there were suitable trees on the Castle Howard estate for this Christmas was wonderful.”
This year, CLW Event Design also created Bamburgh Castle’s Christmas installation, The Twelve Days Of Christmas – whose first version was on display at Castle Howard in 2018 – as the Lloyd Webber-Linnie partnership thrives on ever-growing challenges. “We’ve worked together so long, we finish each other’s sentences,” says Adrian.
“We learn more every year, thinking outside the box, trying to be more outrageous and bringing in the team to get their ideas – and we have an incredibly strong team now, who are so encouraging.”
Adrian revelled in doing the Long Gallery finale for the first time this year for Prince Charming’s Ball, with its golden coach and lavish gowns, but his favourite is the Music Room, where the Elves must deal with a massive order of party shows for the upcoming ball.
The Wicked Queen Grimhilde, the Snow Queen, the Wolf, Princess Aurora, Red Riding Hood, Rapuunzel and Gretel have all submitted their measurements. “That room has a really lovely feel,” says Adrian. “It required lots of shoe shopping online and buying in sales! For all the joy I had with the costumes, finding the right boots and shoes has been a lot of fun too, capturing each character in their footwear.”
Look out for Red Riding Hood’s thigh-high boots, the big bad Wolf’s killer heels in polka dots and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s ballet shoes, gorgeous all of them!
Audio artist Karen Monid took on a new task for Into The Woods. “There are voices in the installation this time [such as Francine Brody for Wicked Queen Grimhelde and Beth Hayward for the Witch], and because each room focuses on a particular tale and character that I could draw on, I then had to pick the right emotion,” she says.
“Charlotte produces her mood board to say what each room represents, and I also had to be aware that it’s a trail with a beginning and an end. Last year it was easier because it was just one story [C S Lewis’s The Chronicles Of Narnia]; this year there are so many stories and characters; at least ten stories, four of them in the first four rooms [Princess Aurora, alias Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel and Snow White].
“The most difficult was the fourth one [the Castle Howard Bedroom], where Snow White’s mother is essentially dead and the Wicked Queen is very much alive. You think, ‘how do I do that in sound in one room?’. I decided to treat the mother like a ghost, so even though the new queen has moved in, there’s always an echo of the mother she could have had from before, with the angelic quality of the harp playing, which then fades away as more strident music comes in.”
Attention to detail is paramount, from the Goose honking to the elves starting to hammer when an alarm goes off. “The passing of time and the sense of the tempo picking up runs through the installation [leading to the clock striking 12 at Prince Charming’s ball]. If you pick up on the chimes as you walk round, you will find that the time is getting later,” says Karen.
“In Hansel & Gretel’s room [the Castle Howard Dressing Room], the cuckoo clock strikes three; in the ‘creators’ room’ [the New Library] for The Nutcracker, the clock strikes six in a scene with a steam punk edge to it. In the Crimson Dining Room, the Sugar Plum Fairy is a clockwork figure.
“That’s why this installation feels so full, with all that detail, like the music changing to reflect the origins of each story, some being French, some German, and only one English, Jack And The Beanstalk.”
Listen to the female voices. “All the good female characters sing, while the bad characters only speak, and they say too many words, like the Witch still talking in the Great Hall while Rapunzel is singing in her tower,” says Karen. “Music is of the heart, connecting with the soul, that’s why they sing.
“I love it when Rapunzel hits her high notes and the glass shatters. ‘Lovely,’ says Rapunzel! That brings a pantomime touch to it, but you always know you’re in their world.”
Ross, who voices the Giant in the Jack And Beanstalk scene, has brought his projection skills to the Octagon Room, as he did last year for Narnia, Aslan the lion and Father Christmas, and now the Long Gallery too.
“We designed a system for the Long Gallery with as little impact on the space as possible, so you’re not aware of the equipment I use, such as the low-key projector stands,” he says.
“It’s something I learnt when projecting onto Buckingham Palace. No-one wants to see the wires or gaffer tape. Now we’ve done this year’s design, we’ll do even more with it next year.”
As in Sondheim’s musical, the characters from different fairytales interact and conjoin in the story, leading to the happy-ever-after vibe of the young characters turning up as their teenage selves for a party.
That ties in with Charlotte’s desire for regeneration, renewal and sustainability in CLW Event Design’s future. “Everyone took stock during Covid, thinking about ‘what are the events that can address the bigger issues [the environment, climate change] in a joyous way, rather than doom and gloom?’,” she says.
“I come from the world of entertainment but entertainment with a purpose, telling a story in a real-life context.
“We have so little manufacturing left in this country, but if we can find glass manufacturers here, bauble makers here, rather then having to import them from China, people who make things out of wood, if we could rely on cottage industries over here, keeping them in work, that would be a good policy for our installations.
“Next year, I’m hoping to really build that up, starting locally, then regionally, then nationally, rather than importing.”
Into The Woods, A Fairytale Christmas enchants at Castle Howard, near York, until January 2 2023. Tickets: castlehoward.co.uk
Castle Howard’s fairtyale Christmas installation goes online for virtual tour
FOR the first time, a virtual tour of Castle Howard’s Christmas installation is available to watch online.
The North Yorkshire stately home, near York, has created a 37-minute video of Into The Woods: A Fairytale Christmas for those who “who can’t visit in person, from international tourists who are still facing travel restrictions to Yorkshire locals unable to get out and about as easily”.
The online video offers a detailed exploration of Into The Woods’ fairytale-themed installation that fills Castle Howard’s grand rooms with decoration, soundscapes and projections.
The tour is presented by CLW Event Design artistic director Charlotte Lloyd Webber, who reveals behind-the-scenes details and the creative team’s inspirations room by room.
Abbigail Ollive, head of marketing, sales and programming, says: “Christmas at Castle Howard is famous for its wow factor, and we welcome thousands of visitors through our doors this time of year.
“We wanted to create an enchanting virtual tour that allowed people to experience the magic from their own homes, including local people who can’t get to us; people across the UK who can’t travel to us, and international tourists who are still limited by travel restrictions.”
Profits from the Into The Woods in person and the Virtual Tour experience will be directed towards Castle Howard’s conservation deficit to restore and protect the historic buildings and beautiful landscape stewarded by the estate.
The Virtual Tour is available via castlehoward.co.uk for£8, giving viewers unlimited access to watch the video. No closing date for this online service has been set yet.