Into the Woods- Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival

Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival opened in style with Sondheim’s classic Into the Woods last night. It is a visually spectacular production which makes brilliant use of the fittingly wood-filled backdrop. And the large and impressive cast taking on one of musical theatre’s most challenging scores. 

Into the Woods is Sondheim’s twist on fairy tales. From Cinderella to Red Riding Hood to Jack and the Beanstalk, these stories are mixed together and mixed up from the familiar Disney versions. The first act is familiar, the Baker and his wife, on a quest from a mysterious witch, are seeking things that only familiar fairytale characters can give. They need a cow as white as snow, a coat as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper of gold. This leads them to cross paths with Jack, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella. In the process Jack ends up with his magic beans…something that never ends well as we all know. For the first act it does all end well. The witch’s curse is broken, Cinderella gets her Prince and after their journey into the woods, everyone is happy…for a moment. Things unravel in Act 2 when the consequences of everyone actions are felt. 

Sondheim’s work is always a challenge and musical director Rob Throne jnr has done an amazing job with both orchestra and performers. It’s a difficult score accompanied by some of Sondheim’s most tongue twisting lyrics, but the cast rises to the challenge beautifully. Meredith Lewis as Cinderella and Jo Herco-Thomas as The Witch both give some beautiful vocal performances. 

Director Richard Tunley does an impressive job at directing what is potentially an unwieldy piece of musical theatre. With so many characters and so much action it could potentially be a messy production, but there is a clarity and consistency to Tunley’s staging that makes the story lines clear and the characters leap to life. 

The large cast also does an excellent job of weaving this difficult story consistently. All of the actors deliver memorable engaging and emotional performances. From the endearing Baker and his wife (Matthew Preece and Laura Phillips) who are the emotional centre of the story, and utterly believable and entertaining as this struggling couple. To the charming (pardon the pun) Princes who deliver hilarious performances that allude to not keeping your sword in it’s scabbard! (Tom Elliot and Lewis Cook) to a scene stealing performance from David Stephens as the Wolf. 

Into the Woods is an incredibly witty and fascinating piece of theatre. There are moments you’ll laugh aloud, moments you’ll marvel at Sondheim’s wit and other times he’ll pull at your heart with emotion. Sondheim is difficult to get right, and is often difficult for audiences to get into, it takes a particular kind of production and a particular kind of understanding to get that. This production gets it. I could sense and hear around me audience members who don’t know Sondheim marvelling at his wit and storytelling through this performance, and it was a beautiful thing to see. 

Into the Woods ends with the haunting refrain ‘Children will Listen’ the warning song to the audience, and a lament on Motherhood. Set against the backdrop of darkened trees outside, after three hours of Sondheim’s magic worked by this hard working cast, it was a haunting lullaby into the night that lingered on much after. 

As a closing note, the world around us changed a bit last night while I watched this production- I heard the clock strive 10 marking the close of the EU Referendum vote and wondered what was next. None of us knows, but as ever the arts are likely to suffer. So as a close to this review I’d like to say to readers, please, please support arts in your commuity. Go out and see performances, get involved. Because the arts need all our support to continue. And of course you could do worse than starting with this or any of Cardif Open Air Theatre Festival of course!

All Photographs: David Holdsworth 

For more information and to book tickets online visit the Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival website: or call the box office on 0333 6663366.

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Romeo and Juliet-Taking Flight Theatre

Continuing the outdoor theatre theme from the last post, it’s time for Taking Flight theatre’s annual outdoor Shakespeare production. Starting in the lovely Thompson’s Park in Cardiff and going on to some of Wales’ most beautiful parks and castle grounds (oh and even one in Bristol this year!) the annual Taking Flight Shakespeare tour would be a delight simply for the backdrop, but there’s much, much more magic involved. 

This year is the turn of the classic love story Romeo and Juliet, where the ill-fated lovers are given a 1960s twist. Set in Verona College (and Verona Ladies College) the warring Montagues and Capulets show their rivalry across the schools (and an annual boat race!). The performance moves around the outdoor space, the performers guiding the audience and often engaging with them, making everyone feel a part of this version of ‘Fair Verona’.

Everyone feeling a part of the production is key to Taking Flight’s ethos, an inclusive theatre company-in terms of both audience and performers. This means that D/deaf actors are a part of the performance, as well as disabled actors, and the performance is fully inclusive for the audience with both BSL interpretation and audio description. This isn’t the kind of ‘add on’ inclusivity that audiences might expect, inclusivity is part of the performance. Audio description becomes a narrative device, with Georgia Periam and Ania Davies becoming ensemble characters and very much a part of the narrative while providing audio description. And while BSL interpreter Sami Thorpe provides simultaneous translation for scenes, she too is very much a part of the story. Meanwhile on stage Juliet and her Nurse (Stephanie Back and Roger Hudson) converse in BSL, while her Romeo (William Ross-Fawcett) attempts to learn in order to woo his Juliet. The inclusion of these accessibility elements brings out new elements of this familiar text and breathes new life into the story.

The school and 1960s backdrop makes for a youthful energetic backdrop to the story. Adapted so that music, movement, audio description and sign interpretation mingle seamlessly with Shakespeare’s original text. The adaptation is a credit to director Elise Davison and it is an energetic engaging version of the classic text. While the inventive use of the outdoor space and the wonderful costumes and design created by Rebecca Davis, transports an audience firmly back to 1963. The addition of musical accompaniment by the actors gives a real ‘Swinging 60s’ feel to the performance.
The actors embrace their roles with relish, from the comedic turns from Arthur Hughes and Sam Bees as Mercutio and Benvolio (not to mention Hughes’ memorable turn as Lady Capulet) to Paul Henshall being suitably foreboding as Friar Lawrence and Lord Capulet. The ill-fated couple themselves bring a youthful innocence and enthusiasm to the role, and are completely believable as a smitten high school pair. There is also real sense of the actors working as a company, and this takes the audience into the world of the performance and along with the actors in what can be both a challenging environment and challenging text.

This version of Romeo and Juliet is inclusive in not only the additions made via BSL and audio description, but also in that it is a wonderful adaptation of Shakespeare’s text that everyone will not only understand but enjoy. What for other theatre companies are ‘additions’ for inclusivity are integral to the performance, and are what make this version so exciting, engaging and enjoyable. Taking Flight once again are re-imagining both what Shakespeare looks like and what inclusive theatre looks like.

Romeo and Juliet is a great introduction to Shakespeare for both young old (and anyone in between). If you’ve never seen an inclusive performance or inclusive theatre company I urge you to see this production and re-define what you think that could mean. Most importantly, if you want to see some great Shakespeare, performed by an exemplary company in some of the most beautiful venues in Wales (and Bristol!) this summer, Romeo and Juliet is the production to see.
For more information on Taking Flight and their work please visit:
Adults £14
Concessions £10
Children (under 16) £6
Families £34
Thu 16 – Sun 19 June Thompson’s Park, Cardiff             
Tue 21 June Caerphilly Castle     
Thu 23 – Sat 25 June Denbigh Castle                       
Sun 26 June Loggerheads Country Park
Wed 29 June Tintern Abbey                                                       
Thu 30 June Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr                                    
Wed 6 July Tretower Court                                         
Thu 7, Fri 8 & Sun 10 July Blaise Castle Estate, Bristol   Tickets for this venue can be purchased here:
Fri 15 – Sat 16 July Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen              
Sun 17 July Rhuddlan Castle                       
Tue 19 July Cilgerran Castle                         
Wed 20 – Sat 23 July Stackpole, Nr Pembroke                    
Sun 24 July Hilton Court, H’west               
Tue 26 July Clyne Gardens, Swansea      
Thu 28 July Elan Valley   
Fri 29 July Kidwelly Castle
Mon 1 Aug Beechenhurst Lodge, Forest of Dean
Tickets can be bought via the Chapter website 


Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival (Preview)

It’s that time of year again….Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre Festival! 

Now granted the last week’s weather hasn’t been exactly summery here (it is Wales after all) but never fear because once again the audience will be completly undercover. So now that you’ve cheered Wales on in the Euros out in the open (ouch, sorry about that sporting folks, or indeed rejoice! if you’re English) it’s time instead to take in some theatre in the air.

First up is Sondheim’s dark musical fairytale Into the Woods playing from 23 June – 2 July. Directed by Richard Tunley with Musical Direction by Rob Thorne Jnr. audiences are transported to an alternative take on classic fairytales with Sondheim’s classic and beautiful score. 

Following the musical…you must…Listen very carefully for I shall say this only once. Excuse the bad joke, it is of course ‘Allo ‘Allo  from 7 July – 16 July the Café René will welcome summertime audiences to the little French rural town of Nouvion. For those unfamilar with the classic sitcom Owner René Artois risks more than his life on a daily basis during wartime German occupation as he attempts to satisfy the demands of the German Army, the French Resistance, his wife and both his waitresses! And this being an outrageous farce of a comedy things rarely go to plan. The team that brought you last year’s hilarious staging of Blackadder, lead by director Simon H West turn their hand to a new but equally popular comedy this year. 

As many will know, this year has been a year of celebration for Shakespeare fans, with the 400th Anniversary meaning the Bard in all forms has been celebrated. What better way then to continue the celebrations than with his most famous love story Romeo and Juliet  from 21 July – 30 July. Directed by Jack Paterson and Mark Modzelewski, this modern take on fair Verona brings to life through movement, song and story Shakespeare’s classic tale of “star-cross’d lovers. 
For younger audiences this year  Disney’s Peter Pan flies into the festival from 23-30 July. performed by AndGo Theatre and choreographed and directed by Emma Jayne Parker. Based on the Disney film and J.M. Barrie’s enchanting play, Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. is a modern version of the timeless tale about a boy who wouldn’t grow up! The score includes new arrangements of classic Disney songs, such as “Following the Leader”, “You Can Fly”, “The Second Star to the Right” and “Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me”.
And, as it all that weren’t enough, the festival also welcomes India Dance Wales who present two hypnotic shows on Sunday 10 July, Shishyaand Shakuntala, and Everyman Youth Theatre will present Richard II on Sunday 24 July.

Cardiff Open Air theatre once again has a line up of superb shows to suit everyone! And with excellent onsite catering from Dusty Knuckle Pizza and the Otley sponsored bar (available from 6.30 every evening) it’s a great summer night out! 
For more information and to book tickets online visit the Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival website: or call the box office on 0333 6663366.
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