My pitch of a multi-rolled, 10-person production of Into The Woods was met with feelings of excitement, confusion, horror, curiosity and disbelief, and for this I have the fantastic Tone Deaf Theatre Company exec to thank for their unwavering support of this project and of myself and the rest of the team. This show has always been incredibly special to me – not only is it a childhood classic but for a music student like me it is also a beautiful showcase of the mastery of theatre, singing, and orchestral music. I have been desperate to put this show on since I came to Durham, so I am thrilled I have finally been able to put one of my dream shows on The Assembly Rooms stage, alongside one of the most professional teams I have had the pleasure of working with.
Why 10 people? Into The Woods is a story with a message that transcends its attachment to its characters. It is an allegory for life and growing up, with all its ups and downs, tears and laughter, pain and joy, summarised with the observation that in life these things can co-exist. The show’s more extended mantras such as ‘I Wish’, ‘No One Is Alone’ and ‘Children Will Listen’ speak volumes to the way we remember what we are told as children, and how that forms our adult life and philosophy. With this thematic core in mind, my vision is centred around visualising the childhood sentimentality of the show, with the central set piece being a children’s climbing frame, decked out with a slide, sandpit, swings, towers, (the works), all of which played with throughout to create make the production fantastically dynamic. In artificially decaying the set with painted moss, dirt and the addition of missing children’s posters, I wanted to platform the theme of childhood abandonment that permeates the show through its many characters, asking the audience to question how children can grown and learn without a leader, and how that can physicalise through their actions. The neutral base costumes accented with character-specific accessories create a transience of character which helps us lean into the multi-rolling choices, and the appearance-versus-reality deception of some of the characters.
The process of working on this show has been a masterclass in the talent and professionalism Durham has to offer, and what can be hugely challenging works can be realised in such a short period. Having directed several TDTC shows before, working with a small cast is something I’ve grown rather attached to. With a more intimate rehearsal environment and more responsibility attached to each role, the company and team congregate as a well-connected troupe, creating a remarkably professional and familial rehearsal space. I would like to give special thanks to our incredible production team led by James Duxbury who have worked tirelessly to bring my far-fetched, complicated vision to life, and without whom this show as we present it to you would cease to exist. An overwhelming amount of this show’s success stems from our wonderfully thorough musical directors Max Wedmore, Carolyn Leung, and Freya Hartley who have achieved the near-impossible by teaching and finetuning a three-hour Sondheim Score in eight weeks. Lastly, I send my eternal gratitude out to my incredible cast, for all trusting me every step of the process and never ceasing to amaze me with their talent, patience, creativity, and versatility. I have never worked with such a group of utter professionals and I am honoured to have been able to do so on one of my favourite projects.
People should come and watch Into The Woods to see a well-known childhood classic like they’ve never seen it before, in aid of the Durham Music Trust, which strives to bring quality musical education to children from less privileged backgrounds across the local area. Our company pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved with a cast of ten, and our version of this show presents the idea that you very much can teach an old dog new tricks – reinventing classic works and breathing new life into them.
I invite you to come into the woods with us to experience a world of wishes, witches, and wonder!
By Emily Phillips
Photo Credits: Tone Deaf Theatre Company