Walney Youth Productions present 'Into The Woods'

When you think of “Youth Theatre” it’s easy to presume that it’s just the Actors on stage who are young, but one local group is bucking the trend by having the entire company, from Production, Stage Talent and Direction being exclusively under 21.

HuddleHub Columnist Pete Garbacz spoke to John Edwards and Molly Whitehouse from Walney Youth Productions to find out more about why this is important and to get the inside information on their upcoming production of “Into the Woods”.
John, 20, started the group in 2011 when he was 15 and in Year 11 at Walney Secondary School, he is currently studying English Language at Lancaster University and juggles his directorial with the rigours of University life.
John told us: “We started originally by performing pantomimes and since have done three pantomimes including Mother Goose in 2013, Aladdin in 2015 and Dick Whittington in 2016. Through this we've donated over £1500 to local charities and invested thousands of pounds in lighting and sound technology. As well as our pantomimes we've performed around five musical, theatre concerts and arts nights - showcasing the vocal and acting abilities of young people in the area.”

Walney Juniors has a full youth committee including the main roles of Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary and youth Creative Team. John has directed the company since its inception; they have had youth choreographers including Lorna Taylor (Then 18), and Natasha Dick (Then 16) and local Musical Directors including Mili Rich, (then 17) and now John, musical directing Into The Woods.
John Continued: “The society has an average of around 20 members and is currently rehearsing towards Into The Woods, our first full musical and our first production at The Forum, something I've worked towards since our inception six years ago. The show is incredibly complex, with some of the hardest music known in musical theatre (Sondheim is a renowned tricky writer!) and is based upon fairytales including Cinderella and Jack and The Beanstalk all blended together around an original story of a young Baker and his Wife trying to have a child.”
Tickets are available now from the Forum Box Office, either via their website or in person.

5 Minutes with John Edwards and Molly Whitehouse
Position in the production & character

John: I'm the Chairman and Director of Walney Youth Productions and I’m playing The Baker this year, one of the only characters in the show who isn't a traditional fairy tale character.
Molly: I'm an original member of WYP, original committee member and general odd job lady playing Florinda, one of the stepsisters. 

What sort of person is going to love this show?

John: Sondheim fans! The score is typically complex and intricate, both musically and lyrically but fans of Sondheim will love it. I hope that general musical theatre lovers try the show out too, it's a completely different style to what most are used to in Barrow (Alan Menken, Andrew Lloyd Webber shows etc.) and so this is a completely different style of musical theatre, I hope theatre lovers enjoy it! The show also shows a different side to well-known characters from Disney/Grimm Fairy Tales - especially following up their stories in act 2 - kind of like 'you've got your happy ever after.... but what now?'
Molly: There's something for absolutely everyone: the score is insanely good, it'll make you laugh and cry, possibly at the same time, its family friendly but it's not childish. Into The Woods is transcendent, if you have any interest at all in theatre and music you'll find something that you enjoy (hopefully anyway, it's quite a long show!)

What’s challenging about bringing this script to life? And are you feeling any pressure from being compared to a Hollywood movie?
John: The biggest challenge this year for me has been teaching the music, it's really hard and I’m so proud of the cast that they've picked it up, learned it and completely made it their own - the songs don't sound like carbon copies of CD's of Into The Woods, the cast have really taken these characters and given them their own spin. Also it's been hard getting the balance right between the traditional characters everyone knows and loves and giving them this Sondheim spin - you want them to be recognisable, but also different. If anything the Disney Movie has helped, it's made the characters a lot more accessible, and it's made the cast able to get a really close up look at interpretations of the characters they're playing - though having said that, the slightly nerve wracking thing is - the film is very "disneyfied" and our version is a lot darker and more grown up, particularly in act two - so I hope people don't come expecting the Disney version word for word.
Molly: I think anyone coming and expecting the film will be very shocked. Of course it's the same story but they had to cut so much and you miss the bits that make the show so charming if you only see the film. The pressure isn't really there for me

What’s going to surprise people about this production?

John: The difference of it. Sondheim is love or hate, I know that - but I hope people are surprised by how different it is to standard styles of musicals, Sondheim hasn't written many huge numbers and catchy tunes for the show - but the lyrics are very clever, very witty and I think parts of the score are gorgeous - so I hope it surprises people to see young people take on a different musical theatre style and a more grown up show.
Molly: I promise it's not just for kids and Disney nuts! 
Who in the show is most like their character?

John: Milky White, our cow - she's a little wooden - but she's got the part nailed!
Either her or Alex as Jack, he's terrific - and I definitely see a bit of Jack's cocky but warm personality in Alex, he's excitable, rushes to make decisions and is a bit frantic, so there's certainly some of Alex in that.
Molly: The show is scarily well cast; Kieran and Ryan are royalty through and through, Joe keeps us all heading in the right direction and Alex is so cheeky it's unreal! That's kind of the best part of Into the Woods; the characters round out the fairy-tale archetypes and make them real

How is your character like you? 

John : The Baker and his Wife kind of serve as the most human reactors to the show, in many ways I think they are a stand in for the audience - they're certainly flawed, but they react to circumstances in a way that I think the audience would - I’m not sure how alike I am to The Baker but I think he finds himself in a pretty dark situation and tries to make the best of it, snapping at people along the way - so that's definitely a bit of me coming through there haha!

Molly: I'm not the sharpest tool in the box but I will make you laugh, whether it's with me or at me is up to you!

If you could play any other character in this show, who would it be?
John: The Witch!!!! I'd love to play The Witch, she has the best songs by far and it's such a good character part! But sticking within the parts I’m suitable for, a Prince - I think they'd be pretty fun to play, I’ve filled in at rehearsals for Agony and loved it - they're good comedy parts.
Molly: Milky White; guaranteed a laugh and I wouldn't have any lines to learn.

(Photographs © Walney Youth Productions/Ray Guselli).

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