This Stephen Sondheim production In the woods was summarily canceled by the Old Vic last year, Clive Davis told The Times, months before it opened. Co-manager Terry Gilliam – ‘still a free spirit at the age of 81’ – had reportedly fallen victim to younger staffers who allegedly felt ‘uncomfortable’ over remarks he made. he had made on the #MeToo movement and transgender issues. His “thoughtcrimes”, said Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail, apparently included the recommendation of a Netflix special by African-American comedian Dave Chappelle. “So what a relief to see that artistic merit can still triumph over small minds.” The production, now staged in Bath, is spectacular to behold and takes “childlike delight in every aspect of the James Lapine story”, weaving together an assortment of fairy tales.
Gilliam deserves “three cheers” for his resilience, Dominic Cavendish told The Daily Telegraph. And the Theater Royal Bath should also be applauded for stepping in – “fashionable fairy godmother” – to stage the play. The production itself? “Two and a half cheers.” Visually, it is indeed ‘spellbinding’ – an almost ‘hallucinogenic’ feast, full of ‘surreal surprises’. Animal-headed figures prowl the woods, while Rapunzel is “confined in a tower made of two cans of oversized baked beans and peas, like inside an installation by the late Claes Oldenburg.” Vocally, it’s “a mixed bag”, however, with more “weight, attack and rhythm” needed for points.
Which makes In the woods so ‘irresistible’ is that it combines quirky fun with a ‘deep exploration of parental anxiety and loss’, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. “First we laugh at his tricks and wit, then we feel his lost folk icons.” Gilliam and Leah Hausman’s production captures the first quality: it is “visually alluring” and playful, and “excels in its dark, dreamlike otherworldly aesthetic”, with floating puppets, gorgeous masks and “fabulous” lighting. ” – all wonderfully “elegant”. But it lacks any real emotional power, and it “never quite manages to drag us into the dismal depths of the musical.”
Until September 10 at the Theater Royal Bath (01225-448844); theatreroyal.org.uk