Writer: Mike Kenny
Director: Wendy Harris
Composer/ MD: Chris Mellor
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
Don’t go to the Lawrence Batley Theatre primed with the usual Christmas time ‘He’s behind you!’ Is Rapunzel a pantomime? Oh no it isn’t!
Rapunzel is more of a physical theatre play for children and their families. Theatre company Tutti Frutti specialise in story based theatre incorporating movement, music and meaning. This time round they’re focusing on growing up and discovering yourself via the classic children’s fairy story. Four performers mix dance, voice and live music to take us through twelve years of Rapunzel’s life. The cast are on stage almost on entry interacting with the audience, which the kids love (you do need a small child with you to fully appreciate this play).
The in the round staging used to tell the story is very simple, with the floor space restricted within a wider area for the actors to play in. A square of floor, stars and window frames hung from the ceiling and a few boxes for props, all of which can be moved as needed to get across the scene. This very basic set up evocatively implies you’re at the top of a tall tower without you ever leaving the ground. This staging combined with the actors bodies is excellent. Very over exaggerated movement and faces give a lovely physicality for adults to appreciate, while making emotions obvious and funny for the kids. Nan (Alicia McKenzie) is particularly good here – just watch out for her building dance! Costume comes into play too, with clip in hair which keeps getting longer to show Rapunzel ageing. A very smart device, although by age eight the plat has to start being carried. This works but somewhere in the back of your mind you know you want them to get out a huge wig!
While the movement is pleasing to watch, the real joy of the show comes through the songs and music, most of which will stick in your head as the lyrics are clever and charming (keep guessing your number rhymes!). There’s a melodic and artful mix of live and pre-recorded tunes, although it is a shame the bulk of the live music is tucked away in a corner, because there’re some interesting and unusual instruments being used which it would be educational to see. Unfortunately, while the lyrics are good, the singing is hit and miss – too quiet at the start, and it often seems like three people trying to sing lead rather than an ensemble effort, aside from the very effective closing number where the discordance of the singers combines well.
Overall, the show will be enjoyed thoroughly by children, as the story is simple and magical, and even if it isn’t exactly Christmassy, it’s an interesting alternative to the traditional Pantomime.
Runs until Sunday 29th December