REVIEW – Into The Woods (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Into The Woods — The Royal Exchange, Manchester
© Jonathan Keenan
DATE: 9 december 2015

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Christmas production is always a welcomed alternative to the traditional festive fare and this year Artistic Director Matthew Xia has taken on the Stephen Sondheim spectacular, Into The Woods. With a notoriously challenging musical score that makes even highly accomplished musicians run for the hills, Manchester’s Royal Exchange makes Into the Woods look like a walk in the park. Laden with wit, plenty of trees and stellar performances throughout –  the execution and delivery of this contemporary fairytale adventure is superb.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the book by James Lapine, Into The Woods takes the main characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella and intertwines each of their fairytale quests. The musical is tied together with an original story about a baker, his wife and their wish to start a family. As the result of a witch’s curse, the couple are childless and their only hope is to reverse the evil spell by venturing into the forest to track down a list of ingredients.

The show runs at a lengthy three hours – the first act is a complete joy ending on a high with every character getting their wish. The second act sees a darker evaluation and the arrival of a giant, with booming voiceover by Maxine Peake, who threatens to undo all of the good work.

Into The Woods — The Royal Exchange, Manchester
© Jonathan Keenan

Puppeteer Rachel Goodwin moves the emaciated Milky White perfectly with David Moorst playing foolish Jack. Prepare yourself for Natasha Cottriall’s Little Red Riding Hood’s encounter with Michael Peavoy’s Wolf which is hilariously funny – with a clever illusion that will keep you guessing.

Award-winning actress Gillian Bevan becomes The Witch and intelligent costume design means she carries an impressive vegetable patch around with her too. Note-perfect performances from Francesca Zoutewelle as Cinderella and Isabelle Peters as the disturbed but angelic-voiced Rapunzel. The show is packed with laughs throughout but comic highlights are definitely reached during the ‘Agony’  duet between Rapunzel’s Prince, Marc Elliott and Cinderella’s Prince, Michael Peavoy.

Suitable for ages 10 and up, Matthew Xia’s Into The Woods is a triumph – with its glorious Sondheim musical score, arranged by Julian Kelly and played superbly by a live band, with top-notch performances all round – it should certainly be on your must-see list this Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

Into The Woods is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Saturday 16 January 2016.

REVIEW – BRINK (Royal Exchange)

Date: 26 march 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

Written by Jackie Kay and in collaboration with The Royal Exchange Young Company, Brink examines the space between being a child and gaining responsibility and independence while crossing into adulthood. With a focus on those years from 14-21, Brink explores ideas, worries and those ‘brinking’ moments in a young persons life, when you’re on the edge, venturing into the unknown or having to make a crucial decision.

What is most remarkable about this production is that the young people are involved in every element of the production, not only on stage but behind the scenes too. With support from the wonderful Royal Exchange and working professionals, the young company are encouraged to take the reigns in marketing the production, producing programmes and stage managing. And it is through this amazing opportunity that this talented bunch have experienced the inner workings of a top notch theatre, like Manchester’s Royal Exchange, and the hard graft that is involved in honing an idea and achieving the standard of a professional production.

Brink is performed on a thrust stage which resembles a cosmic looking rubik’s cube. Frankie Bradshaw‘s design sees each young person enter through a door at the back of the stage, as they find themselves ‘on the brink’. Under the clever direction of Matthew Xia, the young people unpack their concerns and experiences surrounding sexuality, the concept of home, education and mental illness. Jackie Kay has moulded their experiences into a beautifully poetic and frank expression of their feelings which each member of the cast delivers with honesty and individuality. The production also tackles issues such as depression and abuse which Mercy (Natasha Hylton) displays with sensitivity and bravery.


The show is made up of spoken word, movement and song, with many of the cast being talented musicians and singers – Jason Patel and Abigayle Bartley, responsible for music composition stand out as being ones to watch, as does Yandass Ndlovu, a skilled beatboxer with electric moves to match. And the bored and disinterested Harvey (Nea Edwards-Dixon) has a wonderfully rich voice which is complemented by the tuneful harmonies produced by the rest of the cast.

Brink is a wonderful, insightful and hopeful production by a group of talented, hardworking and creative young people.

The Young Company at the Royal Exchange gives young people aged between 14 and 21 the chance to train as Communicators, Design Technicians, Performers and Writers.
Working alongside theatre staff and arts professionals, the Young Company offers 100 young people 12 months of in-depth training to broaden their understanding and develop their skills in their chosen discipline.
To find out more please click here.

Brink runs from 26th – 29th March 2015 in the Royal Exchange Studio. 

-Kristy Stott