Writer: Annie Siddons

Director: Lu Kemp

Cascading down the walls of the Citizens Theatre this festive season are the thick red locks of Rapunzel. This dark tale takes the audience on a journey, rather than an adventure and although daring in its ambition, it fails to hit the mark with its target audience.

The tale of Rapunzel is dark and menacing and this production holds none of that darkness back. It is far from the sickly-sweet pantomime one may expect at this time of year.

Rather, Rapunzel is feisty; the Prince is far from Disneyland although these features breath new life into the old story, after the opening merriment, the whole event comes across as a bleak night at the theatre.

There seems to be some confusion within the piece as to whether it is a play or a pantomime. The whole thing is played mostly straight, and while there are random moments of audience interaction, these seem rather forced. An audience should never be unsure if they are there to observe or participate in the drama and this is not particularly clear in this piece.

Regarding the ‘target’ audience of children over the age of six, this production isn’t recommended. It is too clever both in the script and theatre tech, which although impressive, goes unnoticed by younger audience members.

The darkness of the piece is also questionable for very young children. Scenes include the brutal cutting of Rapunzel’s hair and the blinding of the Prince with garden shears. This is a far cry from a fun-filled night at the pantomime.

Technically, the show is excellent. Staged with precision, the effects are daring and visually impressive. They bring some real magic to the stage and overcome some potential challenges – how to create the illusion of the tower for example.

The grim backdrop is not prominent at first; when covered in greenery, it looks magnificent, however, towards the second act, the rustic wood set becomes a life-sucking greyness.

It certainly works well with the script, but it doesn’t exactly leave the audience feeling uplifted by the end. Puppetry is well utilised and most effective in the production, and there are many beautiful scenes, most notably as Rapunzel grows up. The music, however, is completely forgettable.

A talented cast is headed by Jessica Hardwick, in the title role. She plays the character very naturally and it works well with the audience. Wendy Seager is also enjoyable in the roles of Mother and Paulo and brings out the humour in both characters.

The supporting cast slips in and out of many characters and holds the piece firmly together. Timing is key in this production, and the cast does well to keep up.

Although a well-executed piece of theatre, Rapunzel does not properly grab its young audience. It is an entertaining production and has some wonderful elements to it, but is rather more a bleak tale than a warm, fuzzy, festive one.

The show has its merits, but if you’re looking for a fun-filled night with the kids then maybe stick to a pantomime.

Runs until 3 January 2016

Originally published for The Reviews Hub