Local group Croft House Theatre Company have returned to Sheffield's Lyceum Theatre with the the lesser known Sondheim musical, Into The Woods. Of course most people automatically think of Sweeney Todd when anybody mentions Stephen Sondheim, and although I admit that is by far my favourite of his fabulous musicals, I do also adore the music, and of course, the story of Into The Woods.

Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, this Tony Award winning musical story brings together all your favourite fairy-tale characters including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, the Big Bad Wolf and Jack and the Beanstalk. The motto throughout is "Be careful what you wish for", as the audience meet the Baker and his Wife who wish more than anything to have a child, poor Cinderella, whose own mother has died and is now servant to a wicked Stepmother and two awful sisters, who wishes to go to the King's Festival, and poor Jack who just wishes his cow would give him and his mother some milk.

Having recently being a huge success on the big screen across cinemas and a DVD release, by no other than Walt Disney, featuring the likes of Johnny Depp (The Wolf), Meryl Streep (The Witch) and James Corden (The Baker), now seems the perfect time to bring this classic Sondheim musical to South Yorkshire. For anyone who has ever seen a Sondheim musical (other than Into The Woods), such as Sweeney Todd or Assassins, will know that his musicals have a slightly darker side to them, and therefore maybe not particularly suitable for young children, or for anyone with a nervous disposition. However, this particular performance was far more child friendly than any other live Sondheim production of a Sondheim musical I have seen in the past (although I have never seen a production of Into The Woods, I saw Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, followed by three different and spectacular amateur performances of Sweeney, ENOs Sweeney Todd starring Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel and well known movie actress Emma Thompson, shortly followed by Harrington's Pie Shops' production of Sweeney starring Katie Hall and Jeremy Secomb, as well as the recent production of Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory), this production lacked the usual eerie side usually found in a Sondheim production. However this means this is more suitable for audience members of a younger age.

From the opening number (Prologue/Into The Woods), it was obvious that there were some sound issues, and parts were therefore often missed making it sometimes hard to follow for those who did not know the story or indeed the musical numbers. This was confirmed during the interval after speaking to various other people located in the stalls. We hoped that this would improve during act two however this sadly was not the case. However there were some decent vocalists amongst the cast but the star of the show who was an utter delight to watch has to be Mary Kingsworth, who interpreted the role of the Witch fantastically! It is hard to believe that this role was Mary's debut with Croft, although she is not new to either the stage per say nor the Lyceum, as she has appeared in Hello Dolly and White Christmas with another local group STOS. The comical innuendos between the Wolf and Red Riding Hood (Dale Vaughan and Beth Atkin) had the audience in stitches and although Dale's role as the Wolf was only a small one, he played the role with such humour and passion. Beth was equally suited to the role of spoilt brat Red Riding Hood, who was so used to getting her own way yet learning to make sacrifices along the way through her journey into the woods. The only gripe I had about Beth's portrayal of the role is that she spoke throughout with what sounded like an exaggerated Northern accent and I couldn't quite understand why, it sounded like she was either trying too hard to sound like a young child, which is what Red Riding Hood is, a young girl, or if in real life she has a strong Northern accent and fails to hide this within her acting roles. I just found it a little too uncomfortable at times however it was less obvious in her signing.

The stage set was rather basic, with the orchestra on the stage on a mezzanine level, with a black backdrop; the woods being cleverly made to look like pages of oversized fairy-tale books with referees to the characters (albeit mainly Rapunzel). Even Cinderella's mother’s tombstone was cleverly made to look like the page of a book. However when it came to the tombstone leaving the stage, a member of the stage set could be clearly seen crawling at the side of it to drag it off, as well as a random plastic bag of something seen at the same time. The same goes for the parts of the wood made from the "books" - at various times throughout the performance and certainly at the start of the story taking us Into The Woods, ensemble members could be seen behind the moving bits of tree trunks, and at first I was expecting them to appear at parts of the Prologue and singing lines of the Into The Woods chorus, but this was not the case. They remained firmly behind the bits of stage set, which I thought was unusual as they could clearly be seen behind them, wearing non dark or plain clothing. I was disappointed that the stage set seemed rather basic other than the magnificent books repressing the woods. The show for me personally seemed to lack the magic usually found in a Sondheim musical. Maybe this was purely down to the stage set, but I wasn't blown away by this production. Vocally there was some talent, and the show certainly had its comical moments. Mary's performance as the Witch was by far the highlight of the evening for me personally. Unfortunately the second act was ruined slightly, not by the cast but by two different groups of people near us in the stalls leaving early (and not returning) so this obviously caused us to miss bits of it with the noise of them leaving and I felt bad for the performers. Although I enjoyed the evening I felt there was room for improvement and I would love to see what shows Croft bring to Sheffield in the near future.

Croft House Theatre Company was founded in 1902, bringing first class community theatre is Sheffield for over a century. The group perform annually at Sheffield's Lyceum Theatre. Previous shows include Sondheim’s' Sweeney Todd in 2011, Sister Act in 2015 and Grease in 2014. Their production of Into The Woods runs until Saturday 5th March. Tickets are available via the Lyceum Box Office on 01142 496000.

Reviewer: Lottie Davis-Browne

Reviewed: 1st March 2016