Going “Into the Woods” at Trinity Hall

Into the Woods weaves together the threads of multiple classic fairy tales to form a beautifully blended, uplifting and emotive story

The curtain fell on Trinity Hall’s annual musical last night, concluding several months worth of hard work for all involved. Having directed the 2016 Halls musical, Avenue Q, Eoin Hannaway eagerly returned to oversee this year’s extravaganza: Into the Woods. Alongside JCR Music Officer Niamh McCay and last year’s lead Joseph O’Baoill, the team pulled off a truly impressive production.

Into the Woods weaves together the threads of multiple classic fairy tales to form a beautifully blended, uplifting and emotive story. The plot revolves around the struggles of a baker and his wife who are desperate for a child, an embittered witch, a downtrodden Cinderella, an upbeat Red Riding Hood, and a bumbling Jack – with the paths of each criss-crossing throughout the play. For audiences, the storyline is gripping, mixing childhood nostalgia with unfamiliar and distorted versions of our favourite fairy tales. From the opening song of last night’s performance, the depth of musical talent amongst cast members was evident. It is difficult to pinpoint a stand-out performance, such was the standard, with each cast member wholeheartedly embracing and individualising their role.

As the lovable, if bewildered, baker sets out into the woods hoping to lift the curse which has condemned his wife and him to childlessness, Alan McLoughlin’s performance raised many a laugh from the audience. His ever-concerned wife, played by Aoife Daly, was not outshone, coming into her own with several stunning vocal performances. A definite one to watch is James Nangle who, in the role of Jack, prompted much raucous laughter by carting his paper-mache cow “Milky White” around the stage. His amusing boyishness was cast aside, however, when he sang a chilling rendition of “Giant’s in the Sky” – a performance which stole the show. Other notable cast members included Ronan Daly, seamlessly combining the roles of Wolf, affable narrator, and old man, as well as Maeve Carew whose voice was suitably sweet for the role of Cinderella. Jessica Treacy also impressed as the hysterical and vengeful witch.

Rather than a painted backdrop or gaudily colourful stage, the set was modern and minimalist. Piles of dead leaves and various computer generated backdrops of woodland scenes allowed the actors to steal the limelight. Worth a definite mention also is the orchestral accompaniment to the cast. Under the conduction of Hannaway, the orchestra provided rich music scores alongside sound effects.

A number of universal themes, under the guise of fairy-tale fantasy, were brought to the fore during the play. The plot merely lent shape to a deeper exploration of universal subjects such as fear of the unknown, love, loss, loneliness, optimism, wealth, poverty, social class, and gender. Into the Woods strayed from the path by inverting the traditional characteristics we have come to accept as part and parcel of folk-stories – the monstrous giant is female, the baker cruelly abandons his child, Red Riding Hood skins the Wolf, Prince Charming cheats on Cinderella. Like every fairy tale, however, at the heart of it all is hope, the realisation that “sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood” but that ultimately “no one leaves for good”. The unflinching resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity and crippling hardship uplifted the audience, offering food for thought and much to reflect on. I was surprised to find that Into the Woods did not provide a cheery “happy ever after,” rather it ended by highlighting the need for kindness, friendship and hope in times of loneliness and despair.

Such a perfectly picked story in combination with enchanting performances and wonderful directorship ensured that the 2017 Trinity Hall musical was a resounding triumph. Next year’s performance is undoubtedly one for the diary.