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Muddy review: Rapunzel at South Mill Arts

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned fairytale, some lively song and dance and cheesy jokes to get you into the festive spirit. My four-year-old Mudlet and I let down our hair for South Mill Arts' Magical Christmas Adventure: Rapunzel.

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with the name South Mill Arts… that’s because the Bishop’s Stortford hub for theatre, dance and creative arts changed its name last year from the Rhodes Arts Complex, although the venue itself dates back to the 1960s. It’s got its own museum, dance studio, exhibition space and 300-seat auditorium for screenings and productions, as well as a bar area for pre-show and interval drinks and bites.

I was relieved to find that the auditiorium didn’t feel overwhelmingly big, given that it was my daughter’s first trip to the theatre, which can be daunting to little ones. Instead it felt exciting and novel for her to find her seat, and we had a really good view of the stage and actors, (with no big heads blocking our view thanks to the perfect seating gradient).

There was much anticipation for the show to start, (which, incidentally, has not been labelled as a ‘panto’), as the King and Queen of Stortfoldia (see what they did there?! Apparently the Kingdom of Bishop’s Stortford didn’t sound right!) appeared with their new baby Rapunzel, and so the story began…

The eight-strong cast did a great job of keeping things flowing, with lively original music and as well-known classics to sing along to, as well as some slickly choreographed dance moves.

Prince Bertie and his lovable steed, Sid made a great double act and, I mean, who needs a panto dame when you’ve got a faaaahhbulously sparkly white pony, as camp as Christmas, with a penchant for breaking into song at any given moment? Sid certainly kept the kids amused (with plenty of audience participation!) And there were a few Strictly and lockdown-based jokes thrown in for the grown-ups too, without the dirty puns and naughtiness (it’s not a panto, remember!)

Rapunzel was as sugary sweet as you could wish for from a fairytale princess, while her captor, wicked witch Gothel, was satisfyingly scary and demonstrated a rather impressive set of lungs during her solo numbers.

What I found refreshing was the underlying narrative revolved around friendship, rather than the typical patriarchal fairytale romance. Rapunzel wasn’t rescued from her tower by the dashing prince, but invited to join him on an adventure, explore the world, and ultimately be reunited with her family (while err… cuddling some wolves along the way!).

Even the songs were about being friends, togetherness and standing by each other through difficulties. A far better and more modern message to be passing on to our kids if you ask me!

As for the set, it was simple, yet effective and I was impressed with the lighting, particularly during the lantern scene (if you’ve seen Tangled, you’ll know what I’m on about…) where glowing spotlights filled the auditorium making for a magical grand finale.

As a first jaunt to the theatre for the Mudlet I’d say Rapunzel was a resounding success. She couldn’t stop talking about it and managed the scary scenes well, only fleetingly wriggling onto my lap for the odd thunder clap or wolf howl! If you’re after some good, clean festive family fun, it’s well worth a watch.

Rapunzel is on at South Mill Arts in Bishop’s Stortford until 2 Jan. Book here.

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