Q&A - Tim McArthur (Into The Woods)

In 2014, director Tim McArthur's dark interpretation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's twisted fairytale musical Into The Woods premiered at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre. This year, the production has returned to the Cockpit Theatre, and McArthur has joined the cast as The Baker, who sets out with his Wife to search for a series of objects they can give to their next door neighbour, The Witch, in exchange for a child.
I spoke to Tim McArthur about his role in the show, the challenges of balancing his acting and directing duties, and why Into The Woods is the perfect musical to reflect society today.
Tim McArthur and Jo Wickham in Into The Woods
Photo Credit - David Ovenden
For a lot of Into The Woods fans, their first experience of the musical may very well have been through the 2015 Disney film, but as a director you’ve decided to make this version much darker, as it was originally intended. 
Yes, I really disappointed with the film because they Disney-fied it, and actually the original stage show is a lot darker. The whole musical is about loss, and being responsible for your actions, and the ripple effect of how one thing you do can affect other people, and don't think that came across in the movie at all.

It’s interesting that often when a movie musical is released there is an influx of interest in the original source material, but Into the Woods didn't really seem to have that sort of attention. Why is now the right time to stage a production of this Sondheim staple? 

We've got this sort of society where we really don't care about each other. There's more crime, there's more greed, and more fighting. Even conflict between people in the streets, especially since the Brexit. I think it's given people a certain way to behave towards each other. And, I think the issues within the show are really relevant, because everyone feels those issues within society, and also, everyone suffers loss, and grief, and greed, and that desire for always wanting something more. Once you get something, you want the next thing, which the musical also addresses. I think that's really relevant today.

How does this production reflect those themes and their relevance to the present day whilst maintaining the original ideas within the musical?
Into The Woods is my favourite Sondheim show, and I've seen many, many productions of it, but because I wanted it to reflect our society today I based the characters on British reality TV stereotypes. So, we take it away from the fairy tale image, and make the characters into people which audiences might have seen on the telly. So, Jack and his mom, are like guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show. None of the changes effect the story, or what it's saying. It's just the look of the piece and the feel of the piece which we’ve altered.

Into the Woods is an interesting show because it features a big ensemble cast, and there are so many interweaving plot lines happening at once. As a director, is that something that is difficult to work with?
Not really. It's a bitty show. You don't get the full story all at once. So the pace is really important. I don't want the audience to applaud at the end of the musical numbers because it's really vital that as soon as the song finishes, we pick up the action.

As well as directing the show, you also appear as one of the protagonists, The Baker. What is it like to both direct the show and be a part of the cast?
I've got a great Assistant Director (Ellen Verenieks), who gives me notes and things to think about. And some people from previous production which I directed have come back, as well as some newbies. I wanted a company of people that would just get on with the job. And we're going to have fun with. That there's no room for any diva behaviour. So, in that way I've sort of been kind to myself.

What would you say to someone to persuade them to buy a ticket?
I would say, it's a fresh interpretation of a beloved classic musical. And it’s darker than any production of Into The Woods which I’ve ever seen!