About this time last year there was a shameful incident in Sevenoaks, when a local resident, seeing a poster advertising their forthcoming production of Sleeping Beauty, called the Stag Theatre to complain it was “too black”, and having so many ethnic minorities was “not representative of the town” (too many, for the record, being five out of a cast of 24). Stratford is in every sense far from Sevenoaks, and it’s fair assumption local residents didn’t want their Christmas panto to resemble The Triumph of the Will – indeed, the roll call of birthdays in the audience didn’t include a single Anglo-Saxon name to comfort the Faragistes.
In the original version of the story, the beautiful Rapunzel’s long hair is golden, but then it is a German legend, and beauty standards aren’t the same everywhere, yada yada yada… This being #RapunzE15, the show’s hashtag, her hair is purple, but lovers of golden hair (whether from Nuremberg or Sevenoaks) won’t be disappointed as Goldilocks herself makes an appearance, along with the three bears. (No, they’re not in the original story, but then I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time than being “purist” about a Christmas panto.)
In this version, Rapunzel is kept prisoner by Witch Maddy, whom she believes to be her mother and who has told her how scary the outside world is (maybe it is about the Faragistes after all…) In reality, the witch wants both her purple hair and some golden hair, to mimic the colours of the rapunzel flower, to make a juice which will restore her own lost youth and memory. Enter Goldilocks, who has heard about this imprisoned princess and, Siegfried-like, impetuously decided to rescue her. But she finds the princess ungrateful for being rescued, and their mutual animosity threatens to undermine their fight against the real enemy…
One of the joys of any panto is the jokes that fly over the heads of the kids, and there’s no shortage of those here. But the kids’ response is ultimately the point, and on that score Rapunzel is an unqualified success, bursting with fun and energy, and its message of love and working together is touching without ever becoming trite. Special mention must go to Michael Bertenshaw’s superb Witch Maddy and Juliet Okotie’s stern Jamaican matriarch of a Mrs Bear.
- Written by Trish Cooke (book and lyrics) and Robert Hyman (music and lyrics)
- Directed by Pooja Ghai
- Cast: Raj Bajaj, Michael Bertenshaw, Stephen Hoo, Juliet Okotie, Gemma Salter, Joanne Sandi, Gary Wood, Julie Yammanee, Makeda Ansah and Jade Benjamin
- Theatre Royal Stratford East, London
- Until 13th January 2018
- Review by Roger Mortimer
- 9 December 2017