Event Review: Bede's 'Into The Woods' Is A Triumph

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Bede’s production of Into The Woods at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne this week marks a high watermark in terms of scale, ambition and sheer quality for the school’s Drama department, brimming over with wit, charm and exuberant musicality.

For those less familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-award winning musical, Into The Woods sees the plots of a number of classic fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, blended together and distorted to form a new, multi-layered narrative full of dark humour and, at times, macabre twists on familiar tales.

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Binding the narrative together is a Narrator, played with thoughtful poise by Theo Morse in the Bede’s production, with the character presented as a war-time evacuee whose fanciful tale offers him escape from an otherwise bleak existence. A considerate, thoughtful performer throughout, Theo’s first appearance onstage saw the reveal of dolls through which he went on to ‘tell’ the tale, with this device being just one example of the production’s imagination and celebration of craftsmanship.

From some outstanding mask and puppetry work to a number of thoughtful and carefully-hewn touches in production design, including artfully-flown paper-winged birds, hidden sections of set revealed by witty lighting cues and surprising use of lowered and raised stage furniture floating down from on high, the production consistently revealed new surprises which elevated the show to the standard of a professional performance.

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One of the many plot threads to exploit such charming reveals was that of Jack, played both by the rubber-faced Tom McGovern and wide-eyed Max Mason, ably supported by Jody Laughton as Jack's mother; with some outstanding puppetry in the case of Milky White, Jack’s ‘pet cow’ and ‘best friend’, expertly operated by Matt Maloney, to a golden egg-laying hen on wheels to a personified golden harp, amusingly embodied by a deadpan Grace Longden, both Tom and Max played Jack brilliantly and were a constant joy to behold.

Similarly, Lily Potter’s Red Riding Hood transformed riotously from a demure and cheerful innocent in to a sarcastic (and slightly psychopathic) huntress care of interactions with a crooning and sinister Jonny Connell as The Wolf and the diminutive and surprisingly violent Grandma, played by Echo Abraham. Lily’s exceptional voice and pitch-perfect characterisation saw her nailing the part and she, like many others in the company, deserves sincere credit for contributing not only smiles but belly laughs.

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Possibly the most consistently amusing characters in the production came in the form of the two Princes. Played with aplomb by Louis Muston and Harvey Cole, the Princes’ interactions with one another and the rest of the cast, ably assisted by their deeply funny Stewards in the form of Earl Cave and Flynn Matthews, was side-splitting. Wilfully sending themselves up, the boys milked every laugh possible from the material while also making themselves the butt of their own jokes. Their duet of Agony, which included some daft and suggestive sword waving, was unforgettably fun.

A great deal of the dramatic glue which holds Into The Woods’ storyline together comes from The Witch – a pivotal, challenging and less glamorous role than many. Hannah Roberts fearlessly embraced the part, which requires several show-stopping numbers alongside a genuine physical transformation; thankfully, Hannah was a consistently engaging presence onstage, her physical performance alone being noteworthy.

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When she had the opportunity to sing however, the effect was electric. What a voice!

Likewise, Emily Crow’s performance of Cinderella saw songs performed to a giddying standard. Wheeling from beautiful, charming and reserved to steely, bold and strident, Emily’s Scots lilt added a huge amount to her performance which was both surprisingly deep, sincere and engaging. A dancer by training, Ms Crow here showed enormous potential for straight drama, let alone musical theatre, and it is extremely easy to imagine her forging a career in performance post-Bede’s.

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Finally, and possibly most notably, lead performers Joe Robson and Alice Potter personified The Baker and The Baker’s Wife with a transporting chemistry. They offered wit and physicality that enriched the production enormously and Joe’s comic timing was excellent. Sympathetic, and with enough stage-presence to fill the auditorium, he offered audiences a great deal whenever onstage.

Opposite him, Alice was a sensation. Radiant, warm, friendly and bold, she gave imagination, freshness and levity to the material, truly owning the part with a delivery which was pitch-perfect yet daring. Her vocal performances elevated the production with a richness and power that was genuinely astonishing – to the degree at which it is hard to accept that she is yet to complete her A Levels!

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This talented cast was further enriched by Rhys Clarke, whose amusing turns as The Mysterious Man could not help but elicit giggles, Imogen Lock, whose histrionic Rapunzel tugged at the heart-strings, and a unruly ensemble performance from Ruby Moody, Jazz Scott, Georgia Myers and Jonny Keegan as the Stepmother, Lucinda, Florinda and Cinderella’s Father respectively, with the group providing screeches, howls, physical comedy and comedic horror in spades.

These excellent performances were truly enhanced by a stunning set and some singular sound and lighting work from Stage Manager Matthew Jebb, Production Manager Mr Waring and a huge backstage team. Likewise, all would have been for naught had the music not been as tight, full and characterful from Deputy Director of Music Mr Scamardella and his orchestra.

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Overall however, praise must go to Mrs Lewis, the production’s Director and the school’s Director Drama. She, along with her second-in-command Kelly Goldring, Bede’s Head of Dance Mrs Murphy on choreography, and a huge number of other members of staff, parents, alumni and pupils from across the Bede’s community, pulled off something extremely special this year.

Like falling through a magical hedgerow backwards, only to discover yourself in a whole new world of unpredictable imagination, soaring songs and deep, dark chuckles, Bede’s production of Into The Woods was truly something to behold.

If you didn’t get tickets in advance, you have until Saturday night to bid and bargain - or you’ll live to regret it…

 

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