Into the Woods, Belvoir St Theatre | Review

Don’t have time to read the full review? Click here for a quick summary of the who, what, where and wine of this production.

This classic musical gets a magical makeover for Aussie audiences. A stunning addition to Belvoir St Theatre’s 2023 season.

What happens once we get what we wish for? Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, directed by Eamon Flack, is here to remind you that if you find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, you’ll probably have to pay a pretty hefty tax for it.

The baker and his wife want more than anything to have a baby; when the evil witch reveals that a curse on the baker’s family will prevent them from ever having a child unless they gather a series of peculiar items from the woods next to their village, they jump at the chance to make their family whole. Red Riding Hood is off to see Grandmother, but as we already know, the Wolf has other plans. Cinderella just wants to go to the ball, and jack just wants to keep his cow. Into the Woods asks what happens once each gets their ‘happily ever after’ and warns us to be careful what we wish for.

Musically, Guy Simpson and Simon Holt don’t miss a beat. Their renditions of Sondheim’s infamously complex melodies on just two piano played centre stage run the full gambit of emotions with the characters and then some. Michael Hankin’s set design had me in awe, somehow a bare canvas for an endless array of colourful characters and props, while also asserting its own personality. Luxe velvet curtains that gave way to witchy backlit drapes made the whole stage feel magical, and the cabaret staging of the pianos were beautifully integrated as they played host to props and cast members to create an intimacy to the performance that larger stages just can’t achieve.

It’s a notoriously difficult show to keep in control of, with vast changes in tone and pace from Act 1 to Act 2 and a mindboggling number of fairy-tale characters, used to taking up the whole stage in their individual stories, suddenly singing and dancing on top of one another. And that’s the point and lark of this story, but it doesn’t change how notoriously difficult it is to stage. Director Eamon Flack for the most more than part pulls it off, gleefully playing into the spoof of it all with over-the-top props, exaggerated costumes and dramatic lighting. Where he falls down a little is in the darker moments of the second Act, not quite leaving space for us to feel the characters’ fear and grief as much as we should. As a result, the ending is not as impactful as it could be.

Standouts on the stage were without question Esther Hannaford as the Baker’s Wife, Shubshri Kandiah as Cinderella and Tamsin Carroll as the Witch. Each captured their character so well; Hannaford unifies the layers of desperation for children, love and disdain for her husband, and lust for younger men to give a nuanced, lovable performance; Kandiah embodies the indignant, feminist coming of age of Cinders with humour and heart, capturing every scene she’s in; Carroll’s Witch is maliciously camp and insanely zany, in all the ways you’d expect and in others you’ll need to see the show to find out.

Notable mentions must go to Justin Smith as the Baker for his impressive performance as a husband and father to be desperate to provide for his family, and to Tim Draxl and Andrew Coshan for their ludicrous, raucous performances as the two Princes Charming.

I want to see it 10 more times, minimum, so make sure to purchase your tickets quickly to Into the Woods here!

Sparkling Shiraz | Wine Pairing

I wish I could give you a deeper meaning for my choice of wine here, but truth be told, there’s just something about Sparkling Shiraz that feels magical. The combination of bright ruby colour, the satisfying fizz upon popping the cork, and depth of berry and spice flavours even when chilled makes it an incredibly versatile, easy drinking varietal. Plus it’s a quintessential Aussie wine, first produced in Victoria in the late 1800s. Sip between each song for a merry old time.

My Pick: Cofield 2018 Sparkling Shiraz, Rutherglen, VIC

This Sparkling Shiraz is one that will drink beautifully now, or age beautifully if left for a few years. Enjoy its dry texture, punchy red fruits like raspberry and mulberry and subtle Christmassy spices, which linger in your mouth long after you finish the bottle.

Purchase a bottle from the maker for $30 here.

Into the Woods, Belvoir St Theatre | Tasting Notes

Aussie Season18 Mar to 30 Apr 2023, Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney NSW. Co-produced by Hayes Theatre Co.
Ticket $$60-103
WriterJames Lapine, Stephen Sondheim
DirectorEamon Flack
Theatre Type & GenreMusical, fairy-tale, dystopian
See it if you likeStephen Sondheim, subversive storytelling
Wine PairingSparkling Shiraz
Criteria for Wine PairingBubbly, punchy red fruits, long finish