Rapunzel, we’re rooting for you!
Ghosts and glitter, Battenburg and boos. Rapunzel is a tangled tale of delight.
The celebratory feel of Rapunzel, Hertford Theatre’s Christmas show, starts from the minute you walk into the foyer. On a Saturday afternoon, the café and bar area look beautifully festive and everything sparkles, including the audience, who seem to have dressed up for the occasion. There is a wonderful team of volunteers at Hertford Theatre who are sprinkling magic on every aspect of the experience. I’m enchanted before I’ve even found my seat.
It’s been a while since my last panto experience, and oh my giddy aunt, things have certainly changed. For the better. Rapunzel is written and produced by Rhys Thomas, director of Hertford Theatre, who I met and interviewed last month. When I met him, I thought that Rhys was a man with talent and integrity. And now all my dreams have come true. The Hertford Theatre Christmas show has got so much more to offer than the pantomimes I remember, where storylines tended to be a bit thin, and the predictable gags and sweets thrown out to the audience (do you remember those Drumsticks and Sherbet Dib Dabs flying through the air and flaunting every health and safety rule?) didn’t quite manage to sugar-coat the truth that the event was a tad lacklustre. With Rapunzel, from the moment the curtain goes up, we know we are in safe hands. The set is magical and rich, and the colours are eye-poppingly bright. The musicians have verve and humour and interact with the audience from the start. The curtain goes up and here we go. We’re off to Bad Battenburg and the Black Forest!
The biggest surprise: the actors have real talent. This is proper theatre. I’m surprised. Delighted! But surely pantos are full of bad jokes delivered by people with dubious talent who phone in their lines? Not at Hertford Theatre. The actors have an energy that catches the imagination of the audience, and we are eager to give it back, and with interest. Everyone loves a good story, and this is good old-fashioned story telling, thanks to Robert Oliver’s Willy Grimm. And thanks to writer and director Rhys Thomas, the story is more layered and has more twists and turns that the original fairy tale. The songs are delivered with gusto, by people who can sing. The whole cast, even Gothel the evil witch, are lovable. Hazel the squirrel is our ally from the minute we set eyes on her and him.
Rest assured, the innuendos are there, and with knobs on. Parsnip puns pepper the script. And in case you’re wondering how parsnips worked their way into the menu, rapunzel is a root veg. For the grown ups, it’s an invitation to release any pent up stress. To boo, hiss and shout is cathartic, particularly at this time of year.
Rapunzel, played by Anya Hamilton, has a sweetness and beautiful musicality. She trained at the Royal College of Music and plays several instruments, including the flute. Oscar, her sweetheart, played by Corey Jones, has a great voice, and equally good hair. The story engages us from the beginning and carries us through to the satisfying end, without a lull or a dud note. There is baking and Battenburg delightfulness from Mitzi. There’s bags of audience participation: help is needed to unearth a stuck parsnip. People of all ages are invited up onto the stage. You can imagine the rest. Or can you? Gothel is truly terrifying and a small boy in the row in front of me has a complete meltdown and hides in his mother’s arms. In Act Two, I don’t know whether it’s the ice cream break (the official Hertford Theatre name for the interval), but he’s a different child: sitting with the other children in his party, booing and hissing like a panto veteran.
The dancing is high energy, and the younger dancers, from local dance schools and theatre academies, are brilliant. There are moments of real poignancy.There are joyous singalongs – and Marc Almond finds his way in, along with bits of Oliver. By the glorious finale we are all on our feet and children from the audience have created an impromptu party in front of the stage, doing impressive and uninhibited dance moves that put the grown ups to shame. We all leave on a shared high, a bit like leaving a match after your team has won. I actually felt as if I’d had a workout: tingling all over from laughing, clapping, singing and stamping.
Make a date for Rapunzel. Go before Christmas, now that the schools have broken up for the holidays. Go during that in-betweeny period after Christmas and before New Year. Hertford Theatre’s Rapunzel is good for your health.
Rapunzel, Hertford Theatre, The Wash, SG14 1PS. Until Mon 1 Jan 2018.