Tag Archives: Emma Barclay




Watermill Theatre

RAPUNZEL at the Watermill Theatre



“The second act just gets sillier. And the sillier it gets the more we enjoy it.”


There’s a joke, in the form of a flowchart, currently doing the rounds of social media about how to work out if it’s Christmas. Is it November? Yes? Then it’s not Christmas. The folks down at the Watermill Theatre have obviously missed this as they seem fully intent on delivering a sleigh-load of festive cheer into the heart of the Newbury woodlands. For them, the season has started. It’s time to forget the dark nights, and the darker state of the nation, and embrace the innocent joy that has been locked away for too long.

Annie Siddons’ “Rapunzel” has something for all the family. But Disney it ain’t. It is not quite Grimm either as it strays somewhat from the original German fairy tale. But still managing to keep the central plotlines fairly intact. We are in the rolling hills of Tuscany – not really known for its dense woodland and trumpet-playing pigs, but you have to suspend disbelief to have any chance at all of keeping up with the story. A story told with heart-warming exuberance by the half dozen actor musicians.

Mother Gothel (Miiya Alexandra) is not so much the wicked witch, but an overprotective mother with good intentions. When she becomes aware that Rapunzel (Tilly-Mae Millbrook) is on the verge of pubescence, her innate, maternal fears kick in. Of course: lock her up to protect her. “Because I love you” she reasons to her bamboozled daughter, and Rapunzel meekly takes it.

Meanwhile – on the other side of the forest the Duchess (Miiya Alexandra again) is practically kicking her two sons (Roddy Lynch’s Paulo and Loris Scarpa’s Patrizio) out of the door. Time to seek adventure. Some sort of sexual stereotyping is going on here, but it’s all so tongue in cheek you grin and bear it. Actually, you grin like the Cheshire Cat. By this time, it’s all wonderfully absurd. You almost expect Graham Chapman to burst in with his Monty Python catchphrase; “Stop that, it’s silly”.

Prince Patrizio is the sensitive, musical, mandolin-strumming one who, having misplaced his brother, hears Rapunzel singing in her tower, discovers a way to climb up… you know how it pans out. He scares her, soothes her, kisses her and, ‘Hey Presto’, this is love. Knowing asides swoop over the kids’ heads to be lapped up by the adults’ more knowledgeable (debatable) and experienced (doubtful) minds.

The script dates back to 2006, when Kneehigh put their inimitable stamp on it. This company respect and replicate the spirit. A few topical references have been added – political, of course – relating to taxes, inflation, chancellors, recession and so forth. “Thank God we’re in a fairy tale and not real life”. The fourth wall, already crumbling now gets pulverised, mainly thanks to the wonderfully hilarious Emma Barclay with her wry delivery and comic flair. The second act just gets sillier. And the sillier it gets the more we enjoy it.

Isobel Nicolson’s set adds to the magic of the evening, cleverly creating the illusion of height on the relatively small stage. The fine ensemble cast weave themselves up, down, above and beneath the rickety spiral staircase. Greenery sprouts and retreats, musical instruments appear and disappear. There’s a fair bit for the performers to think about, and occasionally it gets messy, but it’s a delightful messiness that we are glad to be tangled in.

Like the princes in the forest, you may occasionally lose your way among the anarchic mayhem that is “Rapunzel”. Even the Brothers Grimm had two alternative endings to the tale. This show twists it in another direction still. It is an enchanting show. Oh, and did I say it was silly?



Reviewed on 21st November 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ben Wilkin




Previously reviewed at this venue:


Brief Encounter | ★★★ | October 2021
Spike | ★★★★ | January 2022
Whistle Down The Wind | ★★★★ | July 2022


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One Million Tiny Plays About Britain


Jermyn Street Theatre

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 6th December 2019



“Nicholls and Barclay’s remarkably sensitive acting made these snapshots very powerful, for all their brevity”


As we file into the small Jermyn Street Theatre, the ushers tonight seem a little… extra. It all becomes clear as the performance starts and we see these same ushers ‘backstage’, rummaging through audience coat pockets for mints and sharing behind-the-scenes banalities. They’re the first of many characters, and the start of a roll call of modern Britishness via a quickfire series of vignettes.

The format here comes from writer Craig Taylor’s Guardian magazine columns and subsequent book, and originate from fractions of overheard conversations in the maelstrom of the capital. It’s not ever quite clear how much is fiction and how much verbatim; Taylor keeps this opaque. But we can certainly assume that there’s been some narrative help to some of the scenes – of which more below.

It takes exceptional acting to convincingly show us such a huge range of characters of all ages within two hours. Fortunately, Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls are more than equipped. Their adept handling of the wide span of accents required, for example, is astonishing; note-perfect even when switching rapidly between, in one case, Scouse and Manc. The sense of changing settings is also helped by, as so often at the Jermyn, top quality lighting (Sherry Coenen) and sound design (Harry Linden Johnson).

To the content, then, of our many little plays. Some of these flashbulbs of modern life are amazingly poignant, such as the ageing lady struggling to stay in her own home as tendrils of dementia wrap around her, and the gay guy hospitalised after a suicide attempt whose mum determinedly puts his actions as being down to the darker evenings. Nicholls and Barclay’s remarkably sensitive acting made these snapshots very powerful, for all their brevity.

There are flashes of incredible observations of Britishness too, such as the escalating passive aggression about who pays a cafe bill and the reserved sweetness of a mature widow describing the kiss at the end of her first date after bereavement (‘I’m not sure what it was, really’).

But some of these set pieces are more sophisticated than others, seeming to call up rather lazy stereotypes. There’s a builder looking at page 3 in a white van, and a gap yah millennial exchanging Bob Dylan vinyl because they’re into new stuff. These scenes tell us nothing new, and aren’t even much played for laughs, so fall a little flat when viewed against the more effective vignettes.

Some other elements work less well, too (although tellingly these are parts with less to do with the faultless performances of Nicholls and Barclay). The interludes between scenes, voiced by an unseen speaker, prove some of the weaker writing, with the asides actually adding little and actually proving an irritating distraction at times (‘Wolverhampton… never been’). And at times, moving scenes are undermined by a sudden pivot towards comedy, almost as if there’s an insistence towards this being a lighter night. The well-spoken couple having a torrid break-up in a west London restaurant are so acutely observed and acted as to make any of us who’ve survived dumpings pang in empathy (Barclay is especially sympathetic here, as the woman trying to retain her dignity), but the poignance of this scene is punctured by an unnecessary twist.

The biggest issue, though, is about what the series of vignettes can claim to represent. The title refers to Britain, and, with the location of each scene introduced, the geographic spread of the ‘little plays’ is made clear. We’re taken to Scotland (Edinburgh) once, and Swansea. We range from King’s Lynn to Newcastle, from Whitstable to Liverpool. But make no mistake: London scenes dominate here, and RP accents prevail. Given the diversity of today’s British population, not least in London, characters from outside the UK are inexplicably absent. More uneasily still, where they do crop up, it feels as though these characters are simply foils, shining a light on the ‘native’ character. The monosyllabic Ukrainian delivery man who a lonely spinster tries to nobble for a chat; the nurse with beads in her hair (‘maybe not in her culture’), referenced in passing; the honourable Eastern European builder who derides his British colleague’s casual sexism. In a production that does so well to hold a prism up to many strains of Britishness (an ailing NHS, an ageing and lonely population, disconnects between parents and their children), the absence of an attempt towards a truly rounded understanding of what Britain’s population looks like today disappoints.


Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Robert Workman


One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

Jermyn Street Theatre until 11th January


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Mary’s Babies | ★★★ | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019


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