Theatre: You can't see the wood for the trees

INTO THE WOODS DONMAR WAREHOUSE

LONDON

THE DONMAR's latest show presents Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and host of other fairy-tale characters but it's no pantomime. Instead, it's a smart revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical morality tale. This theatre recently acquired a reputation for star casting with Nicole Kidman but the star of John Crowley's production is not an actor, but his brother, the designer Bob Crowley.

With the audience on three sides, this is not an easy space for designers but Crowley casts a hugely evocative spell. The original Broadway production was smothered beneath a glutinously sweet design but Crowley resists the temptation. His Hansel and Gretel-style furniture and the beautiful backcloth suggest classic children's illustrations but his palette is richer, darker and stronger.

As the characters set off into the woods in search of their wishes, the backdrop lifts to reveal a dense, lush forest of evergreens rising up to a tiny castle. Moodily lit by Paul Pyant, it is all richly redolent of Grimm's fairytale, highly appropriate as not everything ends as happily ever after as the hopeful and sprily comic first half promises. Jack climbs his beanstalk, Cinderella marries her prince and a baker and his wife have a child having followed the orders of a witch.

But terror strikes at the opening of Act 2. An unseen, vengeful and highly metaphorical giant comes calling, bringing death and destruction. The rest of the action is somewhat akin to a disaster movie. Faced with stark choices of love, life and death, who will survive? Sondheim provides his character with some of his most heartfelt music, climaxing with the beautiful quartet "No-one is Alone".

This is, in every sense, a chamber version. The musical director Mark Warman has re-orchestrated the piece for nine players to wondrous effect, bringing out the colours of the score with aching solo cello lines and translucent woodwind wiring. His tempi tend to be slow which sometimes robs the action of drive and momentum but it means that for once you hear virtually every single word of the telling lyrics.

John Crowley's direction is similarly detailed, encouraging a very droll wit from his company, notably Clare Burt's stylish witch. Yet occasionally you yearn for more energy. Some of this stems from voices which aren't strong enough to really lift the music and hence the drama. Musing on her unexpected moment of pleasure with a prince, the baker's wife sings of a life full of tiny moments, before realising that "if life were made of moments, then you'd never know you had one". That's a peculiarly apt description for a production whose intimacy makes you feel as if you are watching a well-acted play with music rather than being treated to a full- blown musical.

Audiences at Sondheim's Company reacted with shocked delight to a musical which challenged them intellectually. Into the Woods is not quite in the same league but at its best, it vividly demonstrates that musicals need not be for children or the childish.

To 14 Feb (0171-369 1732)

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on