Writer: Daniel O’Brien
Music and Lyrics: Rebbeca Applin
Director: Abigail Anderson
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
This year, though, the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds seems to rattle that traditional tag slightly. First the choice of show, Rapunzel And The Rascal Prince, isn’t one that features regularly on the panto rota. Add in the fact that this is a Rap-unzel and the status quo definitely seems to be challenged.
Daniel O’Brien’s script sets the Brothers Grimm classic in an arboreal world where the village fortunes are overseen by a Gardner in Chief. Like all keen gardeners, though, competition is fierce and incumbent Hyacinth Horseradish has a rival in the form of evil Ragwort. The horticultural theme runs throughout the village but, when the village’s herb garden is razed by a fire-breathing worm, Ragwort seizes her chance.
Further street cred is piled on when Rapunzel’s rescuer turns out to be a rapping Prince. If Eminem wrote panto this could be the end result. It’s not an entirely hip-hop score, though. Rebecca Applin brings several original compositions to the piece, including a lively ensemble number, Boo, and a touching love duet Nothing Is Impossidoable, echoing with shades of Mary Poppins.
It’s all very brave and a clever idea but, as a whole, one that never quite sits comfortably in the panto genre. Gone are the traditional slapstick and clowning and, while some of the expected set elements are here, it seems more of a musical with panto elements as a sideline than a fully-formed festive feast.
Aiden Crawford has great fun with the rapping Prince Rapscallion, while Mike Onslow as his valet, Sir Stephen, provides some well-observed comedic timing. Jasmine Gur’s Rapunzel lacks edge, though this is possibly down to the way the part is written. There is little chemistry between Rapunzel and her suitor, which leaves their moments together a little flat.
Steve Wickenden’s Dame, Hyacinth Horseradish is a subtle creation by panto standards. A hybrid mix of Dame Edna and Mrs Malaprop, Wickenden eschews the vulgarity of a traditional dame for a more sympathetic portrayal. In counterpoint, Joanne Heywood revels in the pure evil of Ragwort, spitting venom in every line.
The company throw themselves into the piece with enthusiasm and overcome a couple of opening night hiccups with aplomb but the vital spark is missing throughout.
Will Hargreaves’ design steers the show back to more traditional waters, however, some set pieces such as Rapunzel’s tower are inexplicably masked from some of the theatre’s unique seating.
A good pantomime has elements for all ages but the feeling here is that, while the very young members of the audience will be well catered for, adults may miss some of the double-entendre prevalent in traditional pantomime. Does that matter? Possibly not if it encourages a new generation of theatre-goers.
As a piece of theatre, Rapunzel And The Rascal Prince entertains but, as a pantomime, the seeds are there though not fully germinated.