Arts / When fairytales go fuzzy

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Sian Harrington as Little Red Riding Hood. Photo by Andrew Finch
Sian Harrington as Little Red Riding Hood. Photo by Andrew Finch
GUNGAHLIN’S getting a theatre company, and its first mainstage show is a production of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine classic “Into the Woods”, described by one critic as “Wicked” for smart people.

Witty and worldly-wise, the musical interweaves the plots of famous fairy tales, including “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella”, through the archetypal story of a childless baker and his wife.

All the favourite characters are there, but not as we might remember them. And for anyone bringing the littlies along, as the witch puts it: “Careful the things you say, children will listen”.

Director of the production and the company, Richard Block, is a self-confessed latecomer to the theatrical scene, but he is making up for lost time.

Thirty years of age when he got involved in his first show, he’s been performing in Canberra for the last 10 years, playing “fabulous, meaty” roles such as Bill Sykes and learning from top directors such as Kelda McManus and Jim McMullen.

Block’s day job is managing his family publishing business, so it was inevitable that he should come up with an idea of forming a theatre company, Dramatic Productions, and paying his creatives.

Enter writer Michael Heming and composer Andrew Hackwill with the “fabulous fun musical” “The Rokitelly Man”.

“I decided to coproduce it with Ickle Pickle Productions,” he says, and he was on his way.

In 2014 at Teatro Vivaldi, he staged the boutique musical “The Last Five Years” on a share-of-profit basis.

“I’d seen how many talented people there are in Canberra and how hard they work, and I thought they deserved some financial recognition,” Block says.

But “Into the Woods” is on a much larger scale. He’s hired costumes and props from the Victorian Opera and is strongly supported by Gungahlin community associations keen to see a theatre company in the area.

“I knew it was the most difficult show around musically, so we needed really talented people who could get on top of the music,” Block tells “CityNews”.

Luckily, he had worked with ANU School of Music’s Peter Tregear on Carl Rafferty’s Opera by Candlelight production of “The Magic Flute” so approached him to be musical director, but commitments got in the way. Nonetheless, Tregear gave him access to young musicians. As well, Damien Slingsby, who had been the musical director of “The Last Five Years”, came on board. A singer, too, Slingsby also coaches the voices.

He says the depth of talent goes right through the whole cast, listing Kelly Roberts as the Witch, Grant Pegg as the Baker, Veronica Thwaites-Brown as the Baker’s wife, Pip Carroll as Jack, Pip Murphy as Cinderella and Alexander Clubb as Cinderella’s Prince and the Big, Bad Wolf.

His “feisty Little Red [Riding Hood]” is played by Sian Harrington, who came here from England about four years ago, but she is a young adult, not the little girl often associated with the role, a key decision, Block says.

So, what’s the show all about? After all, the happily-ever-after part is all over by the time Act II begins, full of repercussions, natural disasters and human error.

By way of explaining, Block tells me how Sondheim recently said the song “No One is Alone” means “every action you take has a reaction, and everything you do affects everything around you”. And you can’t get much more moral than that.

“Into the Woods”, Gungahlin College Theatre, August 28-September 12. Bookings to or 6253 1454. Dinner and show available. 10 years+ warning.


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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