Now, for anyone still reading, I can already guess why you might be a little apprehensive to book your ticket. Some of you might be scoffing at the idea of putting down your hard-earned pounds for something that calls itself “children’s theatre.” That’s fair–after all, very few of us choose to watch Barney or Sesame Street for pure pleasure anymore. But what if I told you that this production of Rapunzel is built on foundations every bit as solid and profound as anything done in modern theatre? Would you believe me? Well, go see it and tell me otherwise.
Walking into the theatre (surrounded by floor cushions for the youngsters), you might notice how delightfully abstract the set seems, resembling something Picasso might doodle if he decided to paint a child’s toy room–walls like monkey bars, wood boxes stacked to the ceiling, a few choice toys like a teddy bear and a rag doll, gorgeous silk curtain strips tied everywhere. To detail all their uses would spoil the surprises, but trust me when I say nothing on that stage is wasted. And wait until you see Rapunzel’s wig–Disney’s Tangled got nothing on this wicked weave, which is used for everything from a skipping rope to hopscotch. The invention and imagination at work here should make even the most high-budget West End extravaganzas hang their head in shame.
Rapunzel tells its tale with a cast of two, acting as joyful narrators while simultaneously playing every character the narrative requires–Rapunzel, Nan, and later a little boy named Rafi. And what a dazzling pair these two make as they jump seamlessly in and out of their roles. They pout, they play, they present, all the while performing some jaw-dropping physical theatre with intoxicating vigour. Few spectacles have made me feel so lazy.
But even more remarkable than that, never once did it feel like their performance was isolated behind some 4th wall; they were part of our world, talking directly to us on our level. The show I attended had a few 2-year olds in Disney princess regalia, and of course like 2-years old do they decided to wander onstage. Instead of pretending they weren’t there, these actors seemed to revel in them, directing lines toward them and motioning dolls and teddy bears their way, eliciting giggles all around. I call that true courage, and that’s a rare find.
Another possible reason a skeptic might avoid this show has to do with the fear of polluting their children with chauvinistic ideas about women. And rightly so. However, in this adaptation I’m proud to say playwright Mike Kenny has concocted a mature, measured message about the nature of familial independence any parent would be happy to share with their daughter. This Rapunzel is far from helpless; she’s an intelligent, spirited soul who ultimately saves herself. Even more interesting is the depiction of the “evil witch” in Nan, who’s nothing more than a loving caregiver. Throw in a genre-defying soundtrack that’s equal parts pop, electronica and rap, and you have a fairytale well suited for the 21st century.
I would change nothing about this show. At 60 minutes it’s the perfect length to suit a child’s attention span, yet it never feels rushed. It’s so wide-eyed and gleeful, yet it’s never naive. As Rapunzel steps into the world (while promising to visit her loving Nan the next day), I thought of my family and everyone that has waved goodbye to me as I walked away, of how I needed to be free to see the world with my own eyes. But I also thought about how somewhere back home in Lynchburg, Virginia there will always be a light on, waiting for me to visit. To say Rapunzel hit home for me would be an understatement. And for those of you still reading, unconvinced, I know for certain at some point you’ve thought these same things. Go see Rapunzel and remember them, because things like that are worth remembering.