Into the Woods at the Royal Exchange – now booking: A fairy tale Christmas, with a twist…

Polly Checkland Harding

The Royal Exchange is set to pack Sondheim’s Into the Woods with award-winning actors, set designers and Maxine Peake. Book your tickets before they magically disappear.

Once upon a time… There was a theatre called the Royal Exchange in Manchester, which did a very fine job of alternative Christmas productions – not too sugary, not too tinsel-decked, but just right. One year (2014, to be exact), it put on The Little Shop of Horrors, which was so slick, sick and horrifyingly good that it made the people of the city laugh more than the idea that Zippy Santa actually looks anything like Father Christmas. Some say it was one of the first times anyone’s favourite character had been a (giant, outrageously cocky) plant. So, what did one of the best theatres in the land have in store for Christmas 2015?

Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning fairy tale musical, with the Giant voiced by Maxine Peake

Well boys and girls, this year the Royal Exchange will be venturing Into the Woods, a musical place where fairy tales (much more entertaining than this one) intertwine – and where there’s a Giant voiced by Maxine Peake, a poor childless Baker played by an Olivier Award-nominated West-End actor (Alex Gaumond) and a Witch played by a Manchester Theatre Award-winning actress (Gillian Bevan, who, if you remember, was rather splendid in Hamlet). Here the songs and stories are told by Stephen Sondheim, and brought to life by a man who was soon to be the best director in the kingdom, so the wise folk say.

His name was Matthew Xia, and he had done so many great deeds by such a young age that it might almost make other creative people jealous (ahem) – things like winning the Young Vic’s Genesis Future Director Award, directing at the National Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith and Liverpool Everyman, as well as being headline DJ at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, which means he knows more than a little about music.

Helping him on his merry way is the Tony Award-winning designer Jenny Tiramani, with spells at her fingertips; she’ll be bringing the forest into the theatre – and with it a girl with golden slippers who’s on the run and a tall, furry stranger who’s rather taken by a flash of red between the trees. Music and magic come together for Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning fairy tale, in which the characters may – or may not – live happily ever after. After all, boys and girls, it’s up to you to find out.

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