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INTO THE WOODS

PUBLISHED: 16:07 25 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:09 14 October 2010

REGENT'S Park may not quite qualify as a wood, but with a gentle summer breeze drifting through its elegant trees, this magical setting provides the perfect stage.

INTO THE WOODS

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, NW1

REGENT'S Park may not quite qualify as a wood, but with a gentle summer breeze drifting through its elegant trees, this magical setting provides the perfect stage for Stephen Sondheim's second musical.

The storyline itself is fantastical, with a set of characters from a number of different fairytales heading into the woods to discover who they are.

Little Red Ridinghood - brilliantly played by the effervescent Beverly Rudd - is "devoured" by a hungry and handsome wolf.

Rapunzel is kept locked up in a tower by Hannah Waddingham's chillingly terrifying witch, whose hunched back, tree-root arms and cursing, spitting voice recreates that long lost fear in the pit of the stomach only childhood baddies could once evoke.

And the arrogant, debonair princes who woo Rapunzel and Cinderella - as well as the odd peasant girl - are wonderfully entertaining, bellowing out Sondheim's clever songs with panache and comic brilliance.

For the entire first act we watch the fairytale storylines interwoven together in a blur of jovial music, flirtatious fun and witty dialogue.

It's brilliant stuff, cleverly written and beautifully performed, and the modern take on the often-told tales works a treat.

But after the interval the show never quite fulfils its early potential.

Everything turns a bit dark, with a giant storming through the woods wreaking death and destruction wherever she treads.

The happy-ending of the fairytale genre is turned on its head with a menacing thud, and Judy Dench voicing the impressively constructed giant is a nice touch, but the sudden doom and gloom seems a bit of a shame after the fun and frolics of the opening two hours.

Despite its length though, this is a witty and wonderful production, the ideal show for everyone out there who swears every summer they will make it along to the open air theatre but never quite gets their act together. - ROB BLEANEY


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