Carol Ann Duffy
Northern Stage

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Rapunzel Credit: Luke Waddington

Rapunzel, directed and choreographed by Liv Lorent, is a lavish, family friendly reworking of the classic fairy-tale about a young girl, stolen at birth and trapped in tower by a malevolent witch and how she escapes and love triumphs. This production, watched by a rapt and attentive audience of all ages, also emphasises the story of the parents, whose longing for a child is so great that the husband is prepared to steal the rampion (common campanula) flowers from the witch's garden thus invoking her wrath.

The visual imagery is gorgeous and the set by Phil Edolls is reminiscent of both the classic Arthur Rackham illustrations and Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. It is beautifully lit by Malcolm Rippeth. The performance opens in silhouette, setting the tone of high production values with rapidly changing scenes, gorgeous and intricate costumes by Michelle Clapton and epic music by Murray Gold. We see the home of Rapunzel’s parents, the village, the witch’s garden, the tower; occasionally it’s all too much as performers negotiate voluminous skirts, climbing the set, props and entrances and exits.

The narration by Carol Ann Duffy, evocatively spoken by Lesley Sharp, drives the story along. Act 1 focuses on the parents and their fate; there are some wonderful moments when villagers appear with their babies and there is a delightful Maypole dance. All this of course heightens the wife’s longing for a child and leads to the fateful theft of the flowers and the snatching of baby Rapunzel by the witch, memorably and strongly played by Caroline Reece. At first, she finds much joy with ‘her’ daughter but the act closes as the witch encases the now 12-year-old Rapunzel in the tower—the punishment for wanting to be part of the wider world, which is of course what most teenagers desire!

Act 2 is more powerful as it follows the protagonist Rapunzel and the young prince as they find each other and find love. There’s an atmospheric scene when the witch cuts Rapunzel’s hair, hoping to prevent her escape, but, as in all fairy tales it’s in vain and Rapunzel and her prince triumph as they grow to adulthood and themselves become parents.

Rapunzel and the prince are universal, representing youth, strength and resilience and ultimately hope for the future and I would have enjoyed even more choreographic exploration and development. The witch too is a complex figure with a wide range of emotions; her cohort of lizards add depth—are they pets, servants, surrogate children?—the audience can decide.

Gavin Coward, who plays the prince is an assured artist and his solo when alone and blind and searching for Rapunzel is beautiful, expansive and poetic; it could easily have been longer.

Other moments, such as the duet between the footie-mad king, performed by John Kendall, and the prince brought a smile to my face, as did the babies reappearing in act 2 as youngsters and crisscrossing the stage in short dances—great role models for all the young people in the audience!

The performance could have explored the life journey of the brave and beautiful Rapunzel even more, thus strengthening the overall arc of the production.

Ultimately though this production is dance theatre for children, young people and their parents—relatable, gorgeous and a good night out!

Reviewer: Dora Frankel

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