Dugdale Centre, Enfield
When Disney’s Tangled burst onto our screens in 2011, it was only a matter of time before Rapunzel left her mark on Pantoland. With a production staged at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds last Christmas and another scheduled for the Towngate, Basildon in 2013, this April sees the title tour across the UK courtesy of Enchanted Entertainment, whilst the Dugdale Centre, Enfield, presents its second Easter pantomime after 2012’s Hansel and Gretel.
Easter pantomimes differ from their Christmas siblings in a number of ways. Their narratives are often more episodic in nature and usually the romance aspect of the plot is glossed over to focus on an adventurous quest. Running times are also often considerably shorter than Christmas pantomimes as theatres seek to introduce toddlers and young families to the magical world of Pantoland.
Many would argue a panto is not a panto without a Dame, and although Marc Day’s production lists the Villain as Dame Zelda the Witch, she is in fact a puppet manipulated by Richard Vorster, who also plays King Klaus. Puppets are used throughout the production, but without experienced puppeteers they don’t captivate the audience as much as they might. With the actors’ eyes focused on the puppet and often masked by a hat or hooded gown, eye contact with the audience is limited, which, coupled with the puppets’ static facial expressions, somewhat hinders the two-way traffic between stage and stalls.
Although the production lacks any slapstick whatsoever, the pantomime staple of audience participation is present and the audience particularly enjoys shouting “It’s behind you!” to expose a magical unicorn with healing powers. Day’s retelling of the story chooses to retain the Grimm Brothers’ blinding of the Prince and cleverly weaves what is ultimately a short story about a girl in a tower into a production full of fun.
Day introduces some nice ideas into his re-telling, which sees Rapunzel share much in common with the panto version of Sleeping Beauty in that the Prince, having scaled the tower, becomes imprisoned by Dame Zelda the Witch as Rapunzel is conjured away. However, when Rapunzel then simply finds her way home ten minutes into Act Two having been reunited with Prince Frederick, who was blinded and freed by the Witch on account that he would never find his way again, the story is over. The opportunity for an extended quest narrative involving Colin the Jester is avoided and it is left to an elongated Songsheet without words to fill the time.
The production flits between children’s musical and pantomime, with Chris Burgess’s original musical numbers perfectly capturing the essence of pantomime whilst helping to drive the plot mixed in amongst popular hits such as Kylie Minogue’s ‘Love at First Sight’.
The studio space of the Dugdale is effectively transformed into castle interiors, towers and forests by some inventive design and although the five strong cast sing and dance their way through the production in fine voice and simple steps, Rapunzel is somewhat lacking in comic craziness, apart from the wonderful comic acting of Richard Vorster who truly embodies the skills required to be a performer specialising in pantomime and young children’s theatre.
Leaving the Dugdale, audiences are invited to vote for next year’s Easter treat: The Nutcracker, The Three Little Pigs or The Little Mermaid. The Easter pantomime is now a firm fixture of the theatre’s year and what better way to spend the holidays than in some traditional theatrical fun?
Reviewer: Simon Sladen