Rapunzel and the Rascal Prince

Daniel O'Brien

Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

From 30 November 2012 to 13 January 2013

Review by Simon Sladen

The fairytale story of Rapunzel celebrates its bicentenary this December, first published two hundred years ago by the Brothers Grimm in their collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Having enjoyed a surge in popularity recently due to the success of Disney’s Tangled, the tale now makes its way to the pantomime stage in a charming production from the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.

Wicked Ragwort has enlisted the help of a fire-breathing worm to ruin the villagers' crops. She longs to take the Order of the Golden Trowel from Dame Hyacinth Horseradish and in doing so hopes to trick the villagers and get her own way by releasing the worm every year until they relent.

Not only is she intent on ruining their crops, she is also keen to ruin their lives, and when Sorel and Ginger’s new baby girl arrives, Ragwort demands they hand it over so that she can raise it and thereby demonstrate her kindness; a key component of being awarded the Golden Trowel. That baby, of course, grows up to be Rapunzel and there the story takes off, complete with a rapping Prince Rapscallion, a quest to find flameproof seeds and a gigantic fire-breathing worm.

Daniel O’Brien’s script successfully turns Rapunzel into a full-length pantomime, although it does takes a while to get going, stalling the action by providing far too much detail in the opening scene. A lot of the information presented here is unnecessary and could be condensed by a few more rhyming couplets in the prologue as Sage the Owl and Ragwort frame the narrative and set up the pantomime convention of a Good versus Evil battle.

In the role of Sage, Andrew Pepper's wise old owl is a wonderful creation, although sadly the audience never gets to learn why he cannot fly and therefore help save Rapunzel with one ‘fowl’ swoop.

As the repulsive Ragwort, Joanne Heywood menacingly taunts the audience complete with cackle to die for. O’Brien has ensured that the Bury St Edmunds pantomime retains a strong sense of morality, often lost in contemporary pantomime, with the importance of sharing and working together underpinning every narrative episode. With the audience firmly on Sage’s side, they are only too keen to shout “Greedy Weed!” when commanded.

Not only is Rapunzel and the Rascal Prince strong on morals, but it is also strong on that panto favourite, wordplay, with alliteration in abundance, puns a plenty and Ground Force inspired gags galore. O’Brien is a talented writer and his comic patter demonstrates not only the skill required to pen an enjoyable panto, but also the importance of good solid dialogue and narrative integrity.

In many ways, this Rapunzel has shades of Mother Goose about it, with the Dame’s role central to proceedings. Steve Wickenden’s Hyacinth Horseradish is a cross-dressed delight; warm and friendly and sprouting neologisms at every opportunity. Wickenden plays the part truthfully and ensures every member of the audience is made welcome from the moment he steps foot on stage. Although the production plays it safe and is not in any way anarchic, it achieves a wonderful warmth which radiates throughout the theatre and leaves everyone with a smile on their face.

The charming nature of the show is also evident in Rapunzel’s beautiful set and costumes designed by Will Hargreaves and Sarina Gallagher. A rich tapestry of colour, Hargreaves and Gallagher have created an enchanted wonderland full of pleasure. Production values at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds are of the highest standard, which is also reflected in the piece’s newly-commissioned score.

Sage the Owl’s musical number ‘I Can’t Fly’ is particularly moving, whilst Hyacinth and Sir Stephen’s ‘Nothing is Impossidoable’ should be an anthem more people adopt; its infectious melody spreading panto joy to all who hear it. With such a rich, emotive score, it is somewhat anomalous that pop songs make their way into proceedings, jarring with the handcrafted nature of the show. The fact that the Principal Boy puts the Rap into Rapscallion only makes the chart hits seem even more displaced with composer Rebecca Appling’s catchy ‘Hey Girl’ much more at home than Cheryl Cole’s ‘Fight for this Love’ or Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’.

With nothing too loud, too rude or too scary, Rapunzel and the Rascal Prince is a charming family pantomime full of heart. As Hyacinth Horseradish might say, “It’s simply herbilicous!”