top of page
  • CJ Burden

Into the Woods’ Break-Out Stars: A Fantastic(al) Journey

A brilliant run for the folks of Drama Society as their production of ‘Into The Woods’ (originally directed by James Lapine with music from Stephen Sondheim) hit the mainstage at Reading University on 5 March. I had the pleasure of attending the Thursday showing inside 3sixty, where I can say whole-heartedly that I was incredibly entertained by the cast’s star-power from start to finish. It is a pleasure to watch. Partners-in-crime Brooke-Lily York and Jorge Mesa, as co-producers and co-directors, as well as the musical director Lauren Clarke, and wonderful art teams led by Saffron Green, have done an incredible job producing this show.

It is understandable to go into amateur productions with reservations for fear that they could be - well - amateurish. Often, there is a certain preconception that producing a well-known show in any setting that is not the West End means it cannot reach its level of production. The unbelievable drive of this cast, and the stellar production and tech team behind it (who too often go unmentioned!), have no less than proven that preconception to be untrue. The audience was buzzing, even before the show began, as we all watched the iconic cow (produced by talented Vesper Hall), which kept everyone thoroughly entertained while we waited.

There were an enormous number of standout performances in the first act. The Narrator (Daisy Clark) was a powerful and engaging storyteller and set the stage - pun intended - for how fun the show was going to be: the show would not be the same without them. Jack (CJ Stafford) was clearly an audience favourite. Their hilarious characterisation of the role was brilliant from the moment they entered the stage to the moment they left. Another star of the first act was Little Red Riding Hood (Kiera Honeyman). In ‘I Know Things Now’, she showed off her technical prowess as a performer. Maintaining a characterisation while singing appeared to be a total non-issue for her and, undoubtedly, she was one of the most fun performers to watch throughout. The Witch (Holly Sinclair) enraptured the entire audience, blending the very tricky jobs of keeping a pantomime villain-y and her terrifying presence as an antagonist.

Using the balcony floor of the venue for Rapunzel’s tower was an incredibly smart choice by the production team - the careful, genius consideration of the venue, and how it can be utilised to the performer’s and stage crew’s advantage, made Rapunzel’s (Abbie Granger) a performance even more of a delight.

Those who aren’t familiar with Into the Woods often don’t know there is a second act, and its dark turn is placed right after everyone has their happy-ever-afters: standout performances included Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s princes (Joshua Noble-Laying and Cameron Hardcastle) and the Steward (Rhys Doherty) who were all absolutely hilarious. The princes gave increasingly camp, unhinged performances of ‘Agony’ and its reprise had the audience in shambles, laughing. Helena Gardner (who played Cinderella) is a superstar, and had the entire audience shocked by her talent and her voice in every song in which she was featured. And, of course, The Baker (Jack Bromley) and his wife (Lucy Gowan) were nothing short of incredible, stylistically and vocally, throughout. Both kept the audience gripped from start to finish. The dynamic, dramatic range from both performers was astonishing - sometimes delivering subtle, emotional beats, and in others hilarious screams of fear as we were taken deeper and deeper into the woods.

‘Your Fault’ has a reputation amongst cast and audience for having fast-paced, tongue-twisting, gut-wrenching lyrics, and even for the most experienced performers this can prove to be a challenge. When the (alive) cast reconvened for the song, it was easily the performance of the night.

Every member of the cast was invigorated, invested and reminded me of a love for musical theatre that I’d lost in my college days. The production definitely steered towards a camper rendition of the musical and you can tell how much fun the cast were having, whether the spotlight was on them in the scene or not. Even through mic mishaps - which are only par for the course - the cast maintained a consistent level of professionalism and confidence on stage throughout.

It is a testament to a community borne out of societies: the love and care that went into the production by each of its members, on-stage and behind it, made this a joy to watch. It was upsetting that I had not seen more promotion for the show, and dismissals that theatre at an amateur level can only be amateurish were proven sorely wrong. It was a brilliant, campy watch, regardless of whether you are a fan of musicals or if you think theatre ‘just isn’t for me’.

I am sad to see the musical have a three-show run, but I am excited for whatever the society has coming next. The cast and crew would truly fit in on any great stage, and with a West-End budget they would be unstoppable.


bottom of page