Northern Ireland Opera presents Into The Woods, Lyric Theatre, February 9, 2022, Review

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Philip Magowan and Steffan Hill

Based on the book by James Lapine and adapted for the stage by the legendary Stephen Sondheim, Into The Woods promises much, but does it deliver?

Photo – Steffan Hill

Well, it’s only won six Olivier and 10 Tony awards, so, director Cameron Menzies has a pot of gold to work with. And work with it he does. An 18 strong cast, many of whom are Northern Irish talent, and an army of pitch perfect musicians in the pit led by Peter Mitchell give us their all for two hours and 30 minutes.

First thing to draw the eye is the dazzling set designed by Niall McKeever; an architectural-like spiral of a eye made of wood and a constant throughout the running time. Character change is one of the main themes to the plot but the woods remain the same. Put simply a location and character in itself.

Photo – Philip Magowan

The synopsis is quite hard to describe, it’s a mishmash of The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales. Rapunzel, check, Jack and the Beanstalk, check, Cinderella, check, and Little Red Riding Hood all have an outing. What’s really interesting is how Lapine, Sondheim and now Menzies have intertwined these classic morality tales into one coherent story.

But be aware, attention is required at all times such are the twists and turns of the plot. Like all good stories Into The Woods relies on the old narrative of set-up, conflict and finally, resolution, but with this production you get this simple formula two-for-the-price-of-one of your hard earned cash.

Photo – Steffan Hill

The basics plot is the Baker and his Wife have been cursed to a life without children by a witch, the only way around this is to collect four items, all of which are possessed by the main characters of the afore mentioned Grimm’s tales. And three midnights are ticking away.

Without giving too much away there are many bewitching scenes and characters. Two daft princes, Rapunzel’s mania, Jack’s naivety, the narrator’s wisdom, the Witch’s masterplan, a wolf’s creepily seductive nature and much more reveal the many layers of this operatic cake.

Photo – Philip Magowan

There are many turning points and points of no return: theft, ambition, envy, greed, revenge, sorrow… every aspect of the human condition are all on show here. A universally interesting tale told through many tales.

To name and admire all the actors would crash your server, to list their professional credentials would be entering Yellow Pages’ territory. Rest assured everything about this production is what you would expect of Northern Ireland Opera.

If there must be one criticism, the first act’s one hour and 25 minute running time is quite challenging in a fully packed theatre wearing the obligatory mask. But as a whole Into The Woods is well worth the time and money.

Funny, insightful and above all enthralling opera, and as a bonus refreshingly delivered in Northern Ireland’s native dialect.

Into The Woods runs up to and including February 27, 2022.

For booking details visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or ring the box office on 02890 381081

ENDS

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