It’s 21 years since I saw Into The Woods break new ground by bringing English pantomime to Broadway and twisting its neck, and this is the first production since that comes close.

Director Will Tuckett has lost none of the values in paring the show down to its bones for Covent Garden’s elegant but compact Linbury Studio, and the mirror-surrounded set and manually shifted scenery frame the stories as effectively as the 16-piece orchestra supports the clarity of diction and expression which make this production soar above its predecessors.

Flattening the characters’ vowels to an indeterminate “Northern” brings a Victoria Wood/Alan Bennett quality to their speech patterns which both Anglicises and endears them to a broad spectrum audience, many of whom clearly didn’t know the show of old.

Suzanne Toase stands out as a pert and plump Red Riding Hood whose bluff Yorkshire attitude suited the part in a way Sondheim probably didn’t envisage, and Gillian Kirkpatrick’s enjoyably pivotal Cinderella reminded me of the mental posturing and facial expressions of Miranda Richardson’s Queen from Blackadder.

Singing Sondheim is difficult-to-impossible at the best of times, but in Into The Woods actors have the added frustration that the numbers are so often fragmented or truncated by the action. Singing is undeniably patchy: from the otherwise wonderful Anne Reid who struggles to make Jack’s Mother as lyrical as she is funny, to the blithe precision of Anna Francolini’s Baker’s Wife.

When given their head, though, it’s a treat to hear Clive Rowe add weight and resonance to “No One Is Alone” or Beverley Klein wring every emotion from a powerful but beautifully-shaded “Stay With Me”.