Good fun, but ‘Rapunzel’ isn’t a classic panto plot
‘Rapunzel’ isn’t part of the usual panto fairy-tale canon, and Trish Cooke’s version for Theatre Royal Stratford East doesn’t really make a convincing case for it.
A huge issue is that the eponymous long-haired heroine is locked in a tower for most of the show, meaning she doesn’t get to interact with other characters until after her release. Cooke gets around this somewhat by bulking out the story with a riff on ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, but it’s an uneven marriage.
Another sticking point is the confluence of the dame and the villain. Michael Bertenshaw’s Witch Maddy is someone to boo and hiss but also laugh with as she tries to beat old age by brewing a magic potion out of her captive’s hair. Although Bertenshaw’s performance is enjoyably game, the crossover – much like the potion – is never quite right.
Other elements are more successful, including Gemma Salter’s rapping Baby Bear and Juliet Okotie’s no-nonsense Mrs Bear. There’s also a great turn from Julie Yammanee as a swashbuckling Goldilocks, who proves princes are irrelevant by saving Joanne Sandi’s purple-haired Rapunzel herself.
Pooja Ghai’s production has its finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary culture; it was great to see the schoolchildren around me bouncing along to meme hit ‘Man’s Not Hot’. Robert Hyman’s original songs feel rather tame and traditional by comparison, with tired refrains such as ‘Once Upon a Time’.
The production values here are admirably high, with designer William Fricker offering a range of impressive structures, including the all-important tower, and Wayne Parsons choreographing some West End-worthy ensemble numbers. It sounds great too, under the baton of musical director Ian MacGregor.
All told, it’s a perfectly entertaining couple of hours. There’s a nice peppering of pointed political gags too (Rapunzel is asked if she wishes to ‘leave or remain’ in the tower; she chooses to stay). But it’s a long way from towering above the rest of this year’s panto crop.