Anne Reid’s Magical Mystery Tour: Into The Woods

Written by: Michael Darvell

Michael Darvell talks to Anne Reid who is in a new production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre…

Mention Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk and you might be forgiven for thinking it was the pantomime season. Well, there’s another six months to go for this year’s festive offerings, but just to remind you that these are stories for all seasons the Royal Opera House is staging its new production of Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s brilliant magical-mystery ‘take’ on the pantomime genre that weaves a story involving all the above-mentioned characters from the Brothers Grimm fairytales into one delightful plot. It was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment and covers many serious themes such as parent/children relationships, growing up, accepting responsibility, morality and the fulfilment of wishes. It’s good to have it back in the West End, albeit briefly, where it hasn’t been seen since 1990. After Covent Garden it moves to Manchester for a short run.

Dancer, choreographer and director Will Tuckett (recent productions include Timecode, The wind in the Willows, A Soldier’s Tale and Pinocchio) is staging Into the Woods in the Linbury Studio Theatre with the aid of designer Lez Brotherston, so it should really be something to see. A strong cast includes Beverley Klein as the Witch, Clive Rowe as the Baker, Anna Francolini as the Baker’s Wife, Suzanna Toase as Little Red Riding Hood, Gary Waldhorn as the Narrator, Peter Caulfield as Jack and Anne Reid as Jack’s Mother.

For actress Anne Reid this will be only her second music-theatre piece. Three years ago she appeared in Cole Porter’s Out of this World at Chichester Festival Theatre, but never expected to do another musical. Did she have to find her singing voice again?

“After Chichester I sort of gave all that up and got rid of my practice tapes because I thought nobody is going to ask me to do another musical. So I had to start again and bring it back. However, I’m not going to be any great competition for the singers in the musical world. Into the Woods is much easier for me to sing than Out of this World. I have a higher voice here, whereas at Chichester it required a more belting voice, although I enjoyed doing it. In a way the character then was easier than this, but the singing in this is easier, but, by goodness, you have to stay alert. When I listen to Into the Woods I find it very complicated, but I’ve always liked part singing. I was in the school choir and the church choir, so I’ve always enjoyed that harmony thing. I’ve always loved singing and my fantasies as a child were always about singing and not about acting. I should have gone on with the singing when I was young and I might now have a good voice.”

Anne Reid began singing seriously about 20 years ago after she heard the American singer and actress Barbara Cook who, she reckons, has given her “more joy in the theatre than anybody else.” Being able to sing is – and she quotes her friend Victoria Wood, with whom she worked on the Dinnerladies television series – “a question of bottle. It’s having the bottle to do these things. You need it to do these things. I had it as an actress but not as a singer. But I think I do have the bottle now and I would like to get a cabaret together and do that.”

Doing cabaret would be another addition to an already full CV for Anne Reid. Apart from Dinnerladies, other television has included The Booze Cruise and Life Begins series, The Bad Mother’s Handbook and two appearances on Dr Who (both the old and the new series) and she has just done an episode of Marple, playing a mother superior. Recent West End theatre includes Peter Gill’s The York Realist and Epitaph for George Dillon by John Osborne and Anthony Creighton. On film Anne has been the voice of Wendolene Ramsbottom in Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave, Love and Death on Long Island, with John Hurt, Stephen Frears’s Liam, and the title role in The Mother opposite Daniel Craig, for which she was BAFTA nominated and for which she won the Critics’ Circle British Actress of the Year Film Award. Lately she has been in Love Actually (although her part was cut – but see it on the DVD extras) and Hot Fuzz, in which she came to a very sticky end.

Technically, Into the Woods is a difficult show to do, because of all the different characters involved, the convoluted plot and the movement. According to Anne Reid “people say that it’s one of the most difficult of Sondheim’s shows to do. I know somebody who’s done Sunday in the Park with George and they say that’s more difficult. But Into the Woods has a complicated plot and characters and cows that explode and die and witches who transform. And the music continues through the dialogue, underscoring the scenes and you have musical cues for coming on to do a scene. The hard thing for me is to sing and dance at the same time. If I could stand at the side and keep my eyes closed and just sing it, I would be very happy. It’s difficult to bring the singing and dancing together. The acting is the easiest bit for me, but actually sitting and jumping and running about and singing at the same time, I tend to find myself going in the wrong direction and everybody else is coming back and I’m meeting people I shouldn’t be meeting. I was a dancer as a young girl, so that was always a passion and I thought it wouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately my memory doesn’t retain the steps. It’s a different state of mind. After I’ve done it, I go back and can’t remember what it was. As an actress I remember the thought processes but I don’t remember dance steps. Anyway, it’s all good exercise and it’s been just great fun.

“As Jack’s Mother I have quite a few bits of dialogue, so it’s a nice mixture and I think the music is just glorious. I never get tired of it. I sit in rehearsals listening to Clive Rowe singing and it’s a great joy for me because he has such a lovely voice. When the orchestra came in to the Royal Opera House, we were in the rehearsal room with the orchestra in a semi-circle with four microphones and I was on one of them thinking how in heaven’s name did I come to be here at the Royal Opera House singing with an orchestra? I have a fairly small part in this but I feel privileged to be doing it. If I could run, I would run to rehearsals. I can’t tell you how much of an adventure it’s been and I wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything else in the world – it’s glorious!”

  • The opening night of Into the Woods is 18 June 2007 at 7.30 and runs until 30 June. Performances at 2.30 on 20, 23 & 30 June. Previews on 14, 15 & 16 June at 7.30.
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera
  • Performances at The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester between 4-7 July

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