A Bold Reimagining of a Sondheim Classic // Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s Into The Woods

Opening this weekend is Redcliffe Musical Theatre Company’s innovative new rendition of the Stephen Sondheim classic, Into The Woods. In the wake of Sondheim’s passing in 2021 and with a stellar cast of creatives this bold, reimagined post-apocalyptic piece of theatre is one surely not to be missed.

To get all the juicy details and behind the scenes secrets, Bravo Brisbane sat down to chat to director, Elodie Boal and cast members Sam Hocking (Jack) and Jennifer Ashley (Witch) about the production. Read what they had to say below!

Elodie Boal (Director) Says:

How did you come up with the idea to adapt the setting for this classic Sondheim musical?

I had to spend a lot of time with the text and takeaway messages within the production to really land on the thematic. It all stemmed from this niggling question that I had in the back of my mind – ‘what would a fairytale character look like today or in the future’. I did some poetic dreaming around this and discovered this other world for Into The Woods. I created a whole MilaNote Board that really investigated concepts, and images I was drawn to, and ways I could engage my own senses and others when they come to see the show. From there, in a collaborative setting, we’ve really built on this concept and thematic. It’s truly become something special. 

How do you think this is relevant for audiences today?

Into The Woods centres mostly around wishing, and what do you wish for deep down at your core. The characters in the show are constantly questioning themselves and wanting more, or wanting change, or wanting to escape. I feel we’ve spent the last two years during the coronavirus pandemic, dreaming and wishing for the same thing. We’ve really found the truth behind these characters, so audiences will be able to connect on such a deeper level. 

Photo Courtesy of Ben McShea (BEAK Photographics)

How do you feel about directing Sondheim so shortly after his passing?

It’s definitely an overwhelming honour. Sondheim left a huge legacy on our musical theatre world. His songs, scores and stories have had such an influence in many people’s lives. It’s honestly very sombre to be directing the show so close to his passing, but I know he’s a Giant in the Sky looking down on us all. I just hope we do him, and fans of his work, proud. 

What has been your favourite part of directing this show?

Dreaming and collaborating! There has been such an open dialogue from the start about contribution from everyone to really create something magical. From the start, I introduced everyone to the visual concept of the show – where it would be set, why it was set there, what I hoped to achieve. But from there, it was up to the cast to continue dreaming and add on these blocks. Afterall, I wanted to create something unique but was truthful to not only the story, but the actor playing the part. This cast have been nothing but professional. Honestly, everyone is passionate and eager, and it’s meant we can take creative risks in our brave and safe rehearsal space. 

What has been your least favourite part or biggest challenge?

COVID-19 has been the biggest challenge during the show. Right from the start we were affected by it. Our auditions were originally meant to be in person, but as I was coming up from Victoria, I was caught up in the border-pass debacle, so that meant I reviewed video submissions in quarantine. Then, we’ve had to deal with team members getting COVID, and rehearsing a large portion of our show online. And now, we’re dealing with social distancing, mask wearing and reluctant audience members coming to see the show as we move past the peak of COVID. It’s really been an interesting time, which has seen a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and new ways to approach these everchanging circumstances. For example, we blocked most of the production over Zoom through interactive maps and drawing character tracks. If anything, artists in 2022 are resilient. We need to be able to adapt and shift, and this team has done that so effortlessly.  

What is the one thing you would say to people still debating about whether they should buy a ticket?

Firstly, this production of Into The Woods is unlike any you’ve seen before. You won’t be disappointed as its new, fresh, impactful, and risk-taking. It’s an adventurous treat. 

Secondly, artists need your support more than ever before. We do theatre for our audiences – so we can entertain, make them feel and tell them a story. Without an audience, we have no one to perform to. The arts industry has suffered a lot over the past couple of years, so by coming to Into The Woods, and shows like us, you’re supporting the next generation of artists coming through the other side of a pandemic. 

Photo Courtesy of Ben McShea (BEAK Photographics)

Sam Hocking (Jack) Says:

Why do you think this story is relevant today? 

In our society, we’re continuously drawn to human connection. I think it’s a fundamental and unconscious need within all of us to tell our own stories and feel like we’re part of a community. Due to Covid, a lot of people have been isolated from their friends and family, which can have a huge impact on one’s mental health. Into The Woods is relevant because even though these characters lose so much throughout the course of the play, as we have lost so much over the last 2-3 years, we are reminded that even in the darkest of times, ‘No One Is Alone’. 

What has been the most challenging thing in playing this role?

Playing Jack has been a whirlwind. He is one of the youngest characters I have played so I would say it’s been challenging to connect to the raw emotional aspects that come along with playing a young character. I’m reminded of an audition I watched for E.T. where Henry Thomas had to pretend, he was losing his best friend. It is such a believable performance because for children, best friends are so unconditionally precious. My challenge as an actor is finding my own personal connections to bring to the role of Jack so I can bring out that authenticity that is required for the role.

What has been the greatest achievement in playing this role? 

Not falling off the bike this stage. When I first heard the brief about Jack and all of the different things I’d be doing, the bike had in fact made me most nervous. Thank goodness for rehearsal. I also love how Jack invites me to play and explore different childlike aspects within myself. 

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of how new and exciting this version of Into The Woods is. I love what Elodie (our director) has done with the overall vision for the play as a whole, whereby, we as actors, have been invited to collaborate and offer new imaginatively driven ideas to our roles on an autonomous scale, which is really important within any production.

What do you hope the audience will feel after seeing this show?

I hope the audience leave the theatre: firstly, having loved the play; and also feeling encouraged to broaden their connections to people on an emotional level, given the post-apocalyptic theme and how it relates to our current world. Within the fairytales Sondheim has included in this story, there are countless circumstances of which audiences may personally connect to. By identifying these connections and finding their relevance in our lives, it may bring out new ideas and conversations we never knew we could be privy to.

Photo Courtesy of Ben McShea (BEAK Photographics)

Jennifer Ashley (Witch) Says:

You mentioned that ‘this dark elemental, apocalyptic version encourages actors to see beyond the surface of their character and find the truth’. What is the truth of your character?

Underneath it all, I believe the Witch is an acute observer seeking actuality. She’s not afraid to call a spade a spade or punish those who have defied her – however, it’s all in the name of truth. She reveals the sacrifices Jack, Baker, Cindy, Little Red – even Rapunzel had to make in order to get their ‘wish’ and does not shy away from telegraphing it. Having your truth voiced by another person is confronting – especially when you didn’t think anybody noticed. And she does so – and not always in the most composed fashion.

What has been your biggest challenge playing this role?

Probably working through the demands of the vocals with the roller coaster of emotions the witch experiences. She’s up, she’s down, she’s side-to-side; menacing, loving, conniving, manipulative. I want to make sure I can deliver the truth behind the character with vocals that match. Oh and stamina. When do I breathe Sondheim? When do I breathe?

What has been your greatest achievement in playing this role?

Actually, getting to play this role! What a huge achievement that is! Ha! However, my greatest achievement has probably been finding new power in my voice that I didn’t know I had. That’s been such a fun puzzle to piece together.

What are you most proud of?

I am so proud of how the cast has come together in the time we’ve had. We’ve had some serious knockbacks from the start of the year that has totally changed our rehearsal process (thanks covid) – but we’ve worked towards a common goal and everyone has adapted to this exceptionally. We’re a cohesive little bunch with our support growing each rehearsal.

Why should someone come to see this particular version of ‘Into The Woods’?

Do not expect the concept you’ve seen in the movie, or in other productions. This version of the show rips away the glitter and gold and reveals the heart of the story – raw and unadulterated. Mind you – there is still glitter and gold! But, it goes beyond the fairy-tale. Audiences should expect an immersive (well – as much as we can, covid considering) version of the show that draws on your heart-strings. By the end of it, they’ll be relating themselves to one of the characters no doubt! I wonder who will see the witch in themselves?

Do not miss out on your chance to see this show! Immerse yourself in the world of Sondheim, fairytales and dreams! The season will run from 17 February – 5 March 2022 and tickets are on sale here. 

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