The Way Through The Woods

Theatre Editor KIERAN CORCORAN gets lost in the woods late at night. And likes it.

ADC ADC theatre cringe Keats lateshow Music orchestra poetry robert browning The Way Through The Woods Theatre verse

ADC Theatre, 19th-22nd January, 11pm, £5-6

Directed by Phil Scott

[rating:4/5]

Pushing the boundaries of the lateshow format with a hefty orchestra and a robust cast, The Way Through The Woods is an ambitious show with big ideas and a flippant disregard for compromise. It plays its own music live, which is good. It doesn’t try to be naturalistic, which is good. It showcases new writing in verse, which is good. If you look for imperfections, you’ll find plenty (I’ll tell you about some in a second), but they never loom large enough to change the fact that this show is doing something new and interesting which deserves to be seen.

At its core, this is a retelling of Snow White, but the core is boring in comparison to what’s been added to it. The Snow White narrative is invaded by a boy who is drawn into the tale (by magic, obvz) after hearing it as a bed-time story. And, of course, the bed-time story bit is told by a bearded narrator chappie perched on a chair stage-right. These metafictions look gratuitous on paper, but are crystal-clear in performance as the script rappels up, down and between levels of narrative with an irreverent-but-savvy playfulness.

Photographs by Will Seymour

But although these interlacing narratives are an excellent idea, the production missed a trick with the casting. The simple fact is that Rich Wareham, our bearded storyteller, isn’t that good a speaker; a tendency towards monotone and occasional fumbles with his lines really made me wish for somebody who could give the role the gusto it deserved. Also he stood up to do his lines sometimes and I’m not sure why.

Thankfully, he had a lot of help – especially from the accomplished orchestra, who refused to hide away in a pit and instead took up prominent position at the back of the ADC stage. Ed Bell’s score, composed for the occasion, covers scene changes effectively and shifts the action into a higher gear for the most dramatic moments. The music is put to best effect when it combines with dialogue – Katie Alcock’s versified spell-weaving chilled the flesh as it rode the crest of a crescendo.

In fact, it was a shame that music and dialogue didn’t mingle this way more often. Some of the musicians were clearly zoning out in periods of inactivity, and even subtle musical interjection would have enriched sections of the performance significantly. One of the play’s less successful sonic endeavours was the inclusion of three or four songs, which fell a bit flat, but this is a minor and insignificant scruple in light of the play’s otherwise superb musicality.

Such noises and narratives meet marvellously in a varied and exuberant script which does what I really wish more new writing would do: embraces a wide range of different tones and speakers. The ungrammatical chatter of the three dwarves (who’ve laid off four of their number due to the current economic climate) collides with the Posh Prose of Snow White, who is in turn haunted by the vibrant verses of her witch-bitch stepmother, the grandiloquent narrator and the various spirits of the forest – most notably the charmingly Irish Will O. Wisp (geddit?). Although some rhymes are, in the words of eminent critic F.R. Leavis, “PROPER CRINGE”, even Keats had his off moments so I think we can forgive them.

It’s true that The Way Through The Woods’ reach exceeds its grasp – but what’s an am-dram lateshow for? If you want a slick and safe performance you’ve probably already bought a ticket for ETG; but if you can handle some rough edges, this is a production which sets a high standard for creative new writing and is really worth staying up for.

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