Book, Music and Lyrics: Jez Bond and Mark Cameron
Director: Jez Bond
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Jez Bond and Mark Cameron have created their own fantasy world in which to set their series of panto-like Christmas plays at the Park Theatre in recent years. The problem with fantasy worlds is that sometimes they don’t translate to those outside of it and for much of the first half in this ‘third and wackiest instalment of the Chronicles of Waa’ it feels as though the audience is observing some hilarious private joke that none of us understands. It is only in the second half that more conventional story-telling takes over and Rapunzel can finally let down its hair.
Full credit to the writers and to the Park Theatre for tackling a less obvious story as its Christmas offering and amid the endless Cinderellas and Peter Pans very few takes on Rapunzel are to be found. Set in the fictional land of Püss Püss, the King and Queen struggle with infertility for years beforefinally, the Queen becomes pregnant. But a chancer turns up dressed as a Baron and tricks the Queen into drinking a poison, the antidote to which he offers them in return for the unborn child. Rapunzel is locked in a tower for 18 years before deciding she wants to see the real world at last.
It’s a full-on weird and wacky first half which tells the story up until Rapunzel is given away, but with numerous digressions – mostly about Katie Hopkins – and some painfully unenthusiastic audience participation, this never quite gets going. Largely this is because it can’t quite make up its mind whether it’s aimed at children or adults; certainly the screechy King and Queen of Püss Püss are very much in the children’s TV presenter mould, while the baddie Baron’s dialogue is clearly for the adults. It has successful moments but this first section needs more work.
But come back after the interval and things lift considerably both in the story-telling and humour. The inclusion of a geeky Prince Corbyn (Alex Hope) who believes in free healthcare for all and (ironically for a Prince) republics, is nicely skewering as he does next to nothing to save the mathematically brilliant structural engineer Rapunzel (Aretha Ayeh who also plays the Queen), herself a shy but empowered modern heroine. Everything feels much slicker, even the ad-libbing – and as always with panto things going wrong and how well the cast recover are the best moments, including some existential discussions of ‘acting choices’ and dropping jokes that don’t work.
The songs are among the best bits covering a range of styles from soul to dance, taking in some Disney-like soppy ballads along the way. The performers have a number of well-respected and critically acclaimed shows between them, including writer Mark Cameron who appeared in the challenging Hurling Rubble at the Moon earlier this year at the Park, and gives a decent villain in Rapunzel somewhere between Fagin and Bruno Tonioli at his most exuberant. Singing credits to Aretha Ayeh and Rolan Bell (recently Olivier nominated for Memphis) and some good sports commentator narrator puppets by Nick Ash.
Rapunzel certainly warms the audience up for a much more spirited second half, but it’s hard not to look at the cast’s previous work and know that they’re all better than this show lets them be. It’s certainly wacky as the advertising suggests which will appeal to some, but with too many knots to comb through maybe not quite the edgy Christmas alternative you’d expect from the Park.
Runs until 2 January 2016 | Image:Ewa Ferdynus