Dame Judi Dench, the diminutive doyen of the British stage, will be taking on one of the biggest roles of her extraordinary career when she lends her voice to the Giant in the forthcoming Regent’s Park Open Air theatre production of Into The Woods.
Dench, a patron of the alfresco theatre, will not be seen in the show, but will record her part in late July in preparation for the show’s August opening.
Into The Woods, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, takes the Brothers Grimm’s popular fairytales – including Little Red Riding Hood, Jack And The Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel – and blends them with the tale of a Baker and his wife who desperately want a child, resulting in a dark twist that places familiar characters in unfamiliar situations.
Dench’s last London outing came earlier this year in a show synonymous with the Open Air Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though this production was staged by Sir Peter Hall at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Her last appearance in the West End came in Madame De Sade, staged at the Wyndham’s theatre as part of the Donmar West End season in 2009. Dench previously performed at the Regent’s Park venue in 1976, when she starred in Sweet Mister Shakespeare and returned in 1993 to direct Romeo And Juliet and The Taming Of The Shrew.
Dench’s dulcet tones join a cast littered with accomplished West End performers. Hannah Waddingham, who plays the Witch, recently received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for her performance in another Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music, while Jenna Russell, who takes on the role of The Baker’s Wife, won an Olivier in 2007 for her performance in Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George.
Into The Woods runs at the Open Air Theatre throughout August, following the theatre’s current production of Arthur Miller’s witch hunt drama The Crucible and the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors, which features another West End leading lady, musical theatre regular Anna-Jane Casey.