The things I most enjoy about pantomime are its haphazard charm, groan-worthy gags and an audience hiding their eagerness to join in. Rapunzel, co-written by Jez Bond and Mark Cameron, is satisfyingly rich in these ingredients. But more than that, it sheds the more dated, stereotypical panto style and comes at us afresh with genuine humour and dramatic intrigue.
Of course, it doesn’t shy away from the panto checklist completely. Much delight comes from misappropriating the English language (“hair” and “heir”, “reign”, “rein” and “rain”), and a personal favourite was the exclamation of “I will take my leave!” while brandishing a leaf. Furthermore, there’s enough quick-witted ad-libbing (most daringly from Mark Cameron) to keep both the stage manager sweating over the running time, and the audience and cast in stitches.
But the main strengths of the show are in its joyful characters performed by an energetic cast, and in a story that, for the most part, gallops ahead. While there are historically many variations of the narrative of Rapunzel, this show largely follows the same basic plot: Rapunzel’s mother has to give her baby away for having eaten the Rapunzel plant, Rapunzel is locked in a tower, and she finds her one true love via her beautiful singing and extraordinarily long hair. In this case, her singing is a super catchy dance track, her one true love is Prince Corbyn interviewing to be the king’s successor, while a devious baron (“booo!”) is manipulating his own path to royalty.
Adding to the magic of it all are the puppets, beautifully made by Nick Ash. Two commentators pop out of the windows in the back of the set, and a cheerful robin befriends Rapunzel. It is a shame that the movement of the mouths of the commentators is not convincingly in time with the speech, but the overall effect is a delightful bonus to what is already a heartwarming show.
It provides for a gloriously relaxed, bright, and funny evening, with enough silliness and socio-political references to suit all ages and humour. Even the songs range from the emotionally wrought to the clap-along crowd pleasers, with some spectacular vocal performances. It may be small in scale but it is large in spirit, and those who consider a panto a staple of the festive season will not be disappointed.