RUMPELSTILTSKIN at the Park Theatre
“It is crazy. But in the best way possible.”
Most people are familiar with the Brothers Grimm tale ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. If you’re one of those who isn’t (what sort of childhood did you have?) then the Park Theatre this Christmas is not the place to enlighten you. You’ll come away none the wiser. Unless you concentrate on the opening number of the show, the lyrics of which give a potted summary of the story. After which the plot is dispensed with entirely while ‘Charles Court Opera’ take you on a mad, magical, journey into what they call ‘Storyland’. One would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they were concocting this year’s pantomime. What were they thinking? What were they drinking? Whatever the answer, if they had as much fun as the audience do witnessing the result, it’s confirmation that theatre is the best job in the world.
In the States, John Savournin’s script would be titled; “Rumpelstiltskin II”. We’ve had the backstory. Now what happens? Rumpelstiltskin is still a bit of a bad Goblin. Some people never learn! He still grants wishes. But at a price. “What’s the point if you get nothing in return?”. His logic is pretty convincing, except that it is clear he’s not very popular. And because everybody always manages to guess his name, he one day fatefully wishes he didn’t have one. Be careful what you wish for! Cue the Dreamcatcher. She grants the wish. Rumpelstiltskin’s name is erased. But so is ‘Fairyland’. It might be worth pointing out here that the Dreamcatcher has already previously banished the ‘Storyteller’ to a giant castle in the sky at the top of the beanstalk. Come on – keep up! Without the Storyteller there are no stories. Devoid of his name (now just referred to as the Goblin), Rumpelstiltskin makes it his mission to rescue the storyteller – along with all our hopes and dreams that come with the magic of storytelling.
Cue Daisy the Cow, three blind mice, a mischief of rats, the Genie of the Lamp, Captain Hook, Peter Pan, a flying carpet, Jack (and his Beanstalk), a poisoned apple, Larry the Downing Street cat (don’t ask), the Stone Guardians (I said don’t ask), an ex-prime minister, a Cockney copper… where do we stop? Not forgetting the many other references brilliantly and bizarrely crammed into the chaos. To start on the locations would take me way over my word count. And to explain how all the characters, locations and plot twists are linked would be a bit like trying to untangle last year’s Christmas tree lights. You’re better off reading Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ – the chapter on explaining the inexplicable.
It is crazy. But in the best way possible. This show is the best way to warm you up on these cold nights. And amongst the lunacy is lucidity. Beneath the craziness is a very fine message indeed – and the balance is just right. Storytelling is threatened. It can be saved if there is enough belief in its power. The four performers are working on two levels. There is enough for us jaded adults, but they are aware that for many in the audience, this show might be their first experience of live theatre. Part of the pleasure of pantomime is watching the expressions of the younger audience members. It’s safe to say that these guys are now hooked. Job done! Much of the credit goes to Philip Lee who plays the eponymous Rumpelstiltskin throughout, while Emily Cairns, Tamoy Phipps and Lucy Whitney breathlessly take on everyone, and everything, else. If it’s chaotic onstage, what is it like backstage – among the crates of costume, props, accents and personalities that the cast have to sift through at breakneck speed.
David Eaton’s compositions are a mixture of pastiche and sheer originality. A touch of rap, a whiff of steampunk, electronica and delightfully catchy indie-pop. Sometimes it’s as if the Blockheads had met The Shamen at a hen party. I know that makes no sense but surely you’ve got the drift by now. Sondheim gave us ‘Into the Woods’. Eaton gives us ‘are we out of the woods yet?’.
The answer is beside the point. We want to stay in this world as long as we can. It is fantastic and fantastical. When Rumpelstiltskin meets the King and becomes our new prime minister (look – I’ve told you already… don’t ask) we are reminded that, despite everything, there is hope for a better world. Charles Court Opera give us a fairly schmaltzy finale. The ‘Storyteller’ is rescued. The future of stories and dreams is safe once again. As the company sing us out with heart-warming positivity something tugs within us. And we look once more to the young faces in the audience. Yes – there is hope. Charles Court Opera’s “Rumpelstiltskin” should definitely be on your Santa List.
Reviewed on 16th December 2022
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Bill Knight
Previously reviewed at this venue: