After recently binge-watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ on Amazon Prime, a craving for live instrumental music was ignited. What wonderful timing then, becoming aware of Chester Operatic Society’s take on Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
You might have seen the 2014 film version featuring James Corden, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep. I haven’t – so I can’t compare them. What I can do is tell you all about the mesmerising, evocative evening I had at St Mary’s Creative Space last night.
I hope the film is even half as good.
An incredibly talented cast (I can’t stress this enough), both in acting and vocal ability, of twenty, a hidden orchestra of thirteen and an impressive production team, transformed the venue into an immersive wonderland. It’s the first time I’ve seen St Mary’s used as a performance space – the result is a small but perfectly formed stage where every seat is an incredible seat. And creative touches which require a little imagination from the audience, but work a treat.
I’ve got a lot of praise for Storyhouse, but if you want an intimate experience, where you get to enjoy each carefully choreographed step, falling tear and fleeting expression, this is the venue for you.
I won’t ruin the story if you’re unfamiliar; suffice to say fairytales are flung at you right, left and centre in a reimagined intermingling. The result is an exciting clash of known and unknown, loved characters from childhood stories crisscrossing plots. It’s colourful, both in costume (the wolf and the witch benefit from fabulously detailed masks) and in action. The layers of this tale overlap constantly; fleetingly a thread takes the spotlight for a song before being buried back into the arresting chaos.
These focused, often solo lead moments, be it Cinderella working out her feelings for the Prince, or the Baker’s wife agonising over an ill-advised encounter – highlight the reason these actors were chosen – dazzling delivery – further amplified by St Mary’s unique acoustic. These are my favourite moments. We get to hone in on some simply stunning vocal performances.
Trust me, this cast; a mix of established, seasoned actors, and still-in-school fresh faces work together like a dream. And how they managed to time sung lines (often within erratically paced, fast songs) with the notes from the orchestra (doing a beautiful job behind a black curtain) just amazed me.
This event has the warm glow of a community gathering; a charity raffle (I won a candle), low-priced drinks, an emphasis on individual enjoyment (instead of packing in as many seats as possible to make money), teamed with a professional, exuberant performance. What an atmosphere. What an accomplishment. And tickets are only £16.
Get dizzy in the best way, wander into the woods and emerge delightfully dazed. Performances run from tonight, through to Saturday. Tickets can be purchased here.
*Images courtesy of Mark Carline