RAPUNZEL at Theatre Peckham
“As a vehicle for the youth theatre to show their chops, Rapunzel is a very charming production”
Theatre Peckham sits just a stone’s throw from the thoroughfare of Rye Lane, with its bustling array of salt fish sellers, street-preachers and salon owners. Their Christmas show this year, Rapunzel, seeks to bring that vibrant atmosphere to life in an original take on the fairytale.
Under the direction of Suzann McLean, also artistic director of the theatre, Rapunzel is a world famous hair-dresser at vibrantly pink and glitzy Peckham salon Barnet Magic – but things were not always so. When she was just a baby her mother’s jealous cousin Cassie secretly kidnapped her, to use as ransom for an inheritance Cassie was denied. Locked in a tower for 18 years, Rapunzel is none the wiser as Cassie profits from her niece’s hairstyling prowess and continues to disadvantage Rapunzel’s mother Maddy.
It’s an overly long and convoluted plot with jumps in time necessitated by the involvement of a large youth company, outnumbering the adult cast more than three to one. One or two of the young cast surely have a future on the stage, full of energy and goofy charm and clearly having the time of their lives. Jazz Deer-Olafa’s choreography is engaging yet simple enough for everyone to be involved. There are even opportunities for some of the most unassuming cast members to have their moment in the spotlight and it is heartening to see the passion that has gone into the work of the show.
The adult performers are a bit of a mixed bag. Scarlet Gabriel as Maddy and Kellah-M Spring as Rapunzel come across as rather flat and low energy. At the other end of the scale, Jade Leanne Benjamin as the evil Cassie is over the top, particularly in the way she constantly adjusts her various wigs. Montel Douglas provides some light relief as both a distracted detective and Rapunzel’s saviour, Dignity Jones. But Marcus Ayton as Mama Bea is standout with his lilting Caribbean accent and aphorisms on point.
Original musical numbers by composer Jordan Xavier and lyricist Geoff Aymer do well to use elements of pop, R&B and afro-beats to reflect and appeal to the largely local audience. The lead performers seem to have a hard time hearing themselves over the music and there are some weak refrains that are repeated ad nauseum. It also feels like there is a missed opportunity in bringing out the ‘rap’ in Rapunzel more strongly.
As a vehicle for the youth theatre to show their chops, Rapunzel is a very charming production. It has community appeal in its hyper local setting and plot of triumph over adversity. Viewed through this lens, there’s plenty to come away from the show smiling about.
RAPUNZEL at Theatre Peckham
Reviewed on 6th December 2023
by Amber Woodward
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
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