Pantomime: Rapunzel

Reviewer's rating

Theatre Peckham is the best sort of local theatre, rooted in the local community and putting on shows that both entertain and challenge that community. Rapunzel, their Christmas show, is brilliant. It has at its heart the core team of Geoff Aymer, Jordan Xavier and Suzann McLean as writer, composer, and director and it brings together a group of professional performers alongside a group of talented youngsters from the theatre’s academy. The result is a funny, chaotic, fizzy, music-filled performance – a great Christmas show that was, on the night I saw it, hugely appreciated by its enthusiastic audience, containing many local children.

The story is a bit different from the traditional fairy-tale. Rapunzel does have very long hair and is imprisoned in a tower – but it is in Epping Forest. The “wicked witch” who kidnaps Rapunzel is her aunt who hopes to extract a ransom for her return. The payment will have to include Mama Bea’s medical journal which contains recipes for potions and cures that Big Pharma will pay millions for – or so she hopes. Rapunzel’s mother runs a hairdressing salon, Barnet Magic, and much of the action revolves around this shop and its clientele. Eventually local lad Dignity Jones finds the tower and rescues Rapunzel – all ends happily with love, reunions, and forgiveness.

This is a musical and from the very beginning we get big song and dance numbers. The professionals and some of the kids get the chance to lead these set pieces but there is almost always a singing and dancing chorus of young performers. I have to commend choreographer Jazz Deer-Olafa for a non-stop series of dance sets that keep the cast on their toes but are perfectly designed to fit the abilities of all the kids.

As the villain, Jade Leanne Benjamin is superb. It is only fair to say that she does get a lot of the best lines but she delivers them with greedy relish and her singing is great. The story calls for three Rapunzels, two of them representing her as she grows up. As the adult Rapunzel, Kellah-M Spring is sweet and touching. In the original Grimms fairytale, it is Rapunzel’s singing that attracts her rescuer and there was plenty here to demonstrate her vocal talents, particularly a lovely duet with Dignity Jones. And as her slightly-less-than-heroic rescuer, Montel Douglas makes the most both of the comic and romantic sides of his role. As Rapunzel’s suffering parents, Marcus Ayton and Scarlet Gabriel are on top of all the demands of the piece and Ayton’s drag turn as Mama Bea in the first scene brought gales of laughter from the audience.

Given that the show is on most nights up to Christmas there are two children’s casts. All have come from the splendid Theatre Peckham Academy and, though some were very young, they showed the love of performance that is the bedrock for developing talent. Two in particular impressed – Mya Nicholos as the 13-year-old version of Rapunzel and Tara-Binta Collins as Lucy, a feisty customer of Barnet Magic. Both already have the personalities and the voices that can carry a musical number across the footlights with real impact.

This show is community theatre at its best – rooted in, and played for, the people of this vibrant and varied part of London. It’s not a West End piece but it’s got plenty of great musical moments and it avalanches its audience with all the fun and enthusiasm that will guarantee its success all the way to a very happy Christmas.