Theatre Review: Into The Woods (Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney) ★★★1/2

You get the impression that the cast of Belvoir’s new production of Into The Woods said “fuck it!” and went for some big swings in the rehearsal room, and if pays off… mostly. Your mileage may vary, but you can’t accuse this ensemble of complacency.

The whole evening is full of that sense of community good will that rises from a ragtag ensemble deciding to crack open the dressing up box and “put on a show”, rather than the expectations of polished, expensive theatre. A cheeky handful of confetti conveys more magic than any projections or stage magic could, and director Eamon Flack knows how much leeway a scrappy piece of humour will get him. 

Tamsin Carroll and ensemble in Into The Woods. Photo credit: Christopher Hayles.

Each character, on the almost bare stage (it’s just two pianos on a circular riser, surrounded by curtains), is a “character”. Tim Draxl transforms into a shirtless, Essex leather-daddy Wolverine as Mr Wolf. Andrew Coshan is constantly switching in and out of drag as Rapunzel’s Prince and Lucinda (one of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters), and routinely appears on stage in a mix of both costumes. Tamsin Carroll’s interpretation of The Witch is so bold it threw me at first; mostly hilarious, it is occasionally in danger of scene-stealing.

Andrew Coshan and Tim Draxl in Into The Woods. Photo credit: Christopher Hayles.

Among all this colour and movement, sits a trio of performances that serve as the calm in the storm. Esther Hannaford brings an earthy, very Australian stoicism to the Baker’s Wife. With a crisp intonation that hits every syllable of Sondheim’s complex melodies, she became my North Star in this production, with a flawless turn. Similarly, Shubshri Kandiah’s Cinderella and Justin Smith’s Baker give us the human connection that could easily be lost in the mix. 

An abundance of streamers and confetti help to create the onstage forest in a cheap and cheerful way.  When the staging underwhelms, the actors are all in on the gag. No shade, but I’ve never seen a “beanstalk” that looked any good in any production I’ve seen! The flipside of this is that the voices and performances feel massive. 

Esther Hannaford in Into The Woods. Photo credit: Christopher Hayles.

Sondheim purists will likely find much to nitpick, but it’s clear the audience was lapping up the frenetic energy of this production. For a show that’s in its fourth decade, Into The Woods holds up perfectly well to any form of interpretation and Belvoir have brought some enjoyable “big top circus” energy to the fairy-tale world.

By Chad Armstrong

Into The Woods, a co production between Belvoir and Hayes Theatre, plays at the Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney from 18 Mar – 23 Apr, 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.

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