Interview with Aaron Clingham, Musical Director of Into The Woods at the Cockpit Theatre

Playing at the Cockpit Theatre, Into The Woods is one of Sondheim’s interesting and unusual musicals. London Student’s Theatre Editor Anthony Walker-Cook spoke with Aaron Clingham about the show and his role as musical director. Aaron has just been nominated for an OffWestEnd for Best Musical Director for his work on Into the Woods. 

AWC: Firstly, are you a Sondheim fan and what is your favourite musical by him?
AC: I am a HUGE Sondheim fan! My favourite musical written by him is Sunday In the Park With George. I saw the Menier Chocolate Factory production of it when it transferred to the West End; I remember being totally transfixed with the material saw it several times. It was the show that made me want to be involved in theatre.

For our readers, could you explain the role of a Musical Director.

The overall role of the Musical Director in a theatre show is to look after all of the music in the show. Main duties include teaching the cast the score of the show, and assigning harmonies, playing piano for cast rehearsals and rehearsing with the band, and finally conducting the performances.

How has this production adapted the original musical?
We’ve not changed any of the music in any way from what Sondheim wrote. The only adaptation is the reduction of the original orchestration with was written for sixteen players, on our production our band size is five as we are playing in a smaller space.

What can audiences expect from this twenty-first century adaptation of the show?

I think audiences will find the characters instantly recognisable and relatable. We have Cinderella and her Stepsisters who are fashioned on The Only Way Is Essex, Jack and his Mother are straight off the Jeremy Kyle Show and a Baker and his Wife who work in Greggs.

Did you look at any previous productions/ the 2014 film?

As well as working on the show four years ago on which this transfer is based, I also saw the amazing production which was at The Open Air Theatre in Regents Park about eight years ago. I must confess I’ve not seen the film. I’m not keen on Stage to Screen adaptations, especially when I found out that changes that Disney had made to it.

Could you comment on how the round structure of the Cockpit Theatre is used for this production, please.
The show is being stage in the round which means there will be audience in all four sides of the auditorium and the action taking place in the middle, which is really exciting! It works really well with this show! And with the design of the show, the audience really feel as though they are actually in the woods!

In what ways is Sondheim challenging?
Sondheim often describes himself as an actor who writes music and lyrics, in that he places himself in the head of the character he is writing for which means the music and lyrics quite often do not feature conventional patterns or that the music is often dissonant and rhythmically or technically challenging.

What is your favourite song from the show and why?
I absolutely adore ‘Your Fault’. It’s a song towards the end of the second act where five of the shows principal characters start to blame each other for what has happened. It is essentially a sung argument and is possibly one of the hardest and most complex to learn in the entire show.

If you had to describe Into the Woods in one word, what would it be?
Hope.

If Into the Woods is trying to pose one question to the audience, what is it? And what is the answer?
I’m not sure that there is just one thing that Into The Woods is asking. When I watch the show the main thing I think it asks is, will you ever have true happiness, even if you get everything you wish for? The answer is of course, no. Your happiness is shaped by circumstance and whilst you might get everything you wish for, are you truly happy?

If you could play one character in the show, who would it be and why?
Ooooh! I’ve always been very keen on the Baker’s Wife. She has some of the best tunes in the show.

What was the best thing you saw in the past year on the stage?
I saw Dream Girls last year and was absolutely blown away. I’ve always been a huge fan of the score.

Is there anything you wish you had seen?
I would have loved to see Angela Lansbury in Gypsy back in the 70’s. Alas I wasn’t born, but from the shaky clips on YouTube you can get some idea of how magical it must have been.

Finally, what is the most exciting part of this production of Into the Woods?
The most exciting thing is to be able to have a second chance to work on it and make it better than last time.

In collaboration with London Student, the team at Into the Woods have extended the £15 ticket discount price for performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Thanks to Aaron for him time and best of luck with the OffWestEnd award! Into the Woods is playing at the Cockpit Theatre until the 24th June, 2018.


Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. Alongside academic commitments he has several reviews forthcoming with major journals, including Notes and Queries, and contributes to other theatre websites. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: anthony.walker-cook.17@ucl.ac.uk