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: