Wednesday, 23 November 2022

REVIEW: Rapunzel at the Watermill Theatre

The story of Rapunzel, the beautiful woman with golden hair who is locked in a tower is best known as one of the Brothers Grimm’s 1812 fairy tales and for its famous line “let down your hair” to give access to her room. Annie Siddons has developed the story into a full-blown Christmas children's entertainment aimed at primary school kids but with a few elements for their parents too by giving an entire back story to the Prince who becomes Rapunzel’s suitor. In this version at the delightfully intimate Watermill Theatre near Newbury in Berkshire, we meet the Duchess (Miiya Alexandra) who has two sons, Paulo (Roddy Lynch), the ambitious evil brother and Patrizio (Loris Scarpa), her favourite son and chosen heir to the Kingdom. Rapunzel finds herself caught up in the battle between them.

The story has many dark elements with baby Rapunzel’s abandonment, her locking up alone for years, the blinding of Patrizio, Paulo chopping off his own finger and the burial of the finger as well as plenty of assaults and abuse, yet it is staged in such a delightfully comical and creative way that it hardly disturbs even the youngest in the audience and constantly amuses the adults. There are some elements of Pantomime added like the song sheet and audience interaction but generally, it is pitched as a joyous children’s show. Occasionally some adult comedy is shoehorned in like a sketch about inflation or the appointment of a Bunny as Chancellor and a special adviser, but they fall short of parody or satire and feel lame and unnecessary.

Rapunzel is played with wide-eyed innocence by Tilly-Mae Millbrook (who we saw magnificently playing multiple characters in the Watermill’s socially distanced 2020 Christmas Carol) and her meeting with Patrizio in the Tower is beautifully played to a comical romantic effect. Her famous hair is rather oddly depicted by thick green rope wrapped around her body and a strand hanging from the ceiling and while this a practical solution to the climbing scenes it is a pity the two were not connected! Indeed, the theatricality of the solution becomes a running gag with a large hook being used to recoil the hair into the tower and acknowledged by the cast on stage with a “Cheers mate”! Emma Barclay (Touchstone in the Watermill’s excellent outdoer production of As you like it) returns too as Pierluigi Ambrosi, once again showing a good comic touch as she drifts in and out and in again to the story. Jess Lobo makes a fine professional debut as Prezze one of the criminals, the one with a caring heart, of Tuscany.

There are plenty of visual gags and props and physical comedy like the David Attenborough book (with Patrizio doing a passable impression of the Naturalist’s voice), wild boars running riot and a giant crown over the audience. Director Lucy Betts and Designer Isobel Nicolson add lots of visual delights for the children like the butterflies fluttering around the stage, the Wonderland Court costumes and a magical disappearance under a large cloth. There is always something visually interesting to catch your eye, not least the two stagehands who create the unusual all-seeing plant. The audience interaction is also excellent whether the botanist Gothel looking for herbs or Patrizio seeking assistance on how to get Rapunzel to let down her hair and a charming young girl on the balcony confidently explains the right words.

The music composed by Tom Attwood, as usual at The Watermill played by the actor-musicians, are lively simple poppy tunes which are instantly fun without being memorable with rock guitar in “Herb picking” and lovely saxophone and mandolin on “Ping Pong”. Occasionally the personal mics were brought up too slowly. However, in the tiny auditorium of the Watermill, we could still catch the words and the show was effectively lit by Alex Musgrave.

The production runs until 1st January with mainly morning and afternoon matinees and deserves the support of the local school communities for a joyous outing at Christmas that like Pantomime itself will bring a smile to all and hopefully inspire young children’s love of live performance. Certainly, the young Princess in the row in front of me on her first proper theatre trip looked spellbound throughout and shared delight with her parents. And for an extra special fun family treat there are Pyjama performances between 28th December and 1st January with a pre-bookable hot chocolate and a biscuit at the interval. A perfect Family outing.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row E | Price of Ticket: £26
Blog Design by pipdig