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Into The Woods / Musical Theatre Cabaret - Royal Academy of Music

I’ll be brief. I’m conscious that I once started by saying that when I wrote a piece about Bat Out of Hell the Musical, which eventually went on for over 3,000 words. There was a time when invitations to review student productions was in vogue – there’s still one ‘performing arts academy’ that invites me each year but it’s rare these days, although I like to crowbar in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's musical theatre offerings into my Edinburgh Fringe schedule. I understand the reluctance with regards to getting student productions reviewed – it seems rather unfair in some respects to review people who are still learning their trade. And frankly, it’s quite nice every so often to pay one’s own way to sit down and watch a show without being too analytical about it. 

This production of Into The Woods, presented by the Royal Academy of Music’s Musical Theatre Company (theirs is a postgraduate course, which puts them at an advantage when it comes to things like the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year competition, as they’re pitted against undergrads), had such a minimalist set that there was no portrayal of giants. There was no puppet to represent the cow Milky White (Madeleine Jackson-Smith), leaving the actor, as if being graced with a non-speaking part in a musical wasn’t enough, largely reduced to holding a rope. If Jack (Cormac Diamond) had a beanstalk, I didn’t see one. On the night I went, someone’s voice cracked on a big note at the end of a song and someone else appeared to fluff their lyrics completely before getting back on track. No, I’m not naming them.


This stripped down version works, at least for me. It forced (a strong word, I know) me to pay attention more to the lyrics and the spoken dialogue, and I felt I understood the show and the salient points Sondheim was making more than in any other production of Into The Woods I’ve come across over the years – there are choices to be made in life and we learn from our own experiences as well as those of others, and in this regard, yes, ‘No One is Alone’.


Sebastian Diaquoi’s Narrator was suitably engaging with a welcoming stage presence, and it’s no surprise that Madeleine Morgan won the 2024 ‘SSSSPOTY’ competition (the people who run it don’t pronounce the letter ‘s’ four times, they just hiss and follow it up with ‘potty’) – here, as the Baker’s Wife, she gets a marvellous solo in the second act. Chad Saint Louis’ Witch, meanwhile, has such a powerhouse singing voice that the antagonist becomes quite likeable even though she placed a curse on the Baker (Tom Newland) and locked up Rapunzel (Mafalda Falcão). The Witch doesn’t use a broomstick, but rather a regular, if long, stick, mostly used to shock the Baker’s genitals, which was mildly amusing the first couple of times but quickly started to get repetitive.


The use of a stage manager making appearances to call the first act, interval and second act came into its own once things start going very, very awry (as scripted) in Act Two. A fifteen piece orchestra, directed by Isaac Adni (also a postgraduate student) sounded very lush. It’s a three hour show that, thanks to Sondheim’s trademark rapid lyrics, rattles along swiftly enough.

The musical theatre students not in this particular production, and who put on a version of Spring Awakening a couple of weeks prior to the Into The Woods run, presented a post-show musical theatre cabaret, called Office Hours, with songs themed around, as the programme put it, “workplace politics and water cooler gossip”. Pushed back to a 10:15pm start, it was a very short performance, just over half an hour, I suppose deliberately reworked and retimed to take account that a good number of us where schlepping upstairs to the recital hall having just seen a three hour show.


At face value it sounds like a terrible idea for a show – and at face value, the storyline was awful. The office is ruled by a tyrannical manager (Sam Sayan), the sole director of the company (chairman and chief executive) who doesn’t believe in remote working of any kind who enjoys barking “Get back to work!” at people, irrespective of whether they’re already working, which invariably they are. It’s all as predictable as night follows day, and of course the rest of them are all at least a little bit odd to still be working there in the first place. And so it follows that when a vacancy is announced, a modified version of ‘I Hope I Get It’ from A Chorus Line doesn’t quite work: these are people who could be paid more to do less elsewhere.


The ending sort of redeems the beginning – Mr Manager decides on an external hire from overseas (presumably one of his loyal minions is going to sort out the Skilled Worker Visa paperwork), and the camaraderie of the office environment justifies a reworked ‘Old Friends’ from Merrily We Roll Along. This lot were keen to impress the audience, as if to say, “Hey, we can do Sondheim too!”


There was, to be fair, much fun to be had in listening to a range of songs drawn from musical theatre and chart music. A very melodramatic, collective obsession with coffee led into a rendition of ‘Taylor, the Latte Boy’ by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, always a pleasure to hear, and sung brilliantly by Osian Clarke. It was all a bit bonkers, but it was all a bit fun.


Okay, so not quite 3,000+ words, but not exactly brief either. Sorry not sorry.

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