Rapunzel – A Hairy Tale Adventure

Dec 22 2020 | By More

★★★☆☆   Festive fun

National Theatre of Scotland online: Wed 23 Dec 2020 – Mon 4 Jan 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

The National Theatre of Scotland’s Rapunzel is full of enjoyment and impressive performances. Although it never quite stakes its claim as a compelling work in its own right, there is plenty to satisfy those missing their annual helping of seasonal entertainment.

Available online as well as screening in cinemas in such locations as can currently have such establishments open, it is described as ‘an online festive show’ rather than a pantomime, despite being directed and co-written by panto stalwart Johnny McKnight. In truth, while it has many elements of a pantomime, it really isn’t one.

Amber Sylvia Edwards as Rapunzel. Pic: Kirsty Anderson

Watching on screen does take away much of the involvement and interactivity of the traditional panto, and while there are some laudable attempts at recreating these, the production largely and sensibly takes a different tack.

However, what the end result should be called is more difficult to say, as there are different impulses pulling the film in different directions. While it is full of fun, it is never quite coherent.

tantalising promise

We are promised at the beginning that we are going to hear six different sides of the same story, which holds out the tantalising promise of a Rashomon-style exploration. This is a red herring, however, as the various different sections, with one performer in each, are different chapters of the same story.

Johnny McKnight. Pic: Kirsty Anderson

The episodic structure is, of course, necessary under current conditions, and may go some way to explaining how six other distinguished writers – Apphia Campbell, Johnny McKnight, Uma Nada-Rajah, Morna Pearson, Stef Smith, Meghan Tyler and Anita Vettesse – are credited alongside McKnight.

The story does take some time to warm up, with expected elements missing that will disappoint many viewers. While there are undoubted topical references, some of the plot points pertaining to current events begin to work against rather than with the story. The attempt to update some of the more outdated panto tropes also works well, but inconsistently. This is particularly in evidence at the end, where the messages of hope and empowerment are layered in confusion about how much it applies to 2020.

wonderfully catchy and varied

Drawbacks to the structure are immediately clear, and there are some definite pacing issues. Each character has their own song, and although the numbers by Novasound (Lauren Gilmour and Audrey Tait) are wonderfully catchy and varied, they are far longer than would be usual in a pantomime, and take up too much of the running time. Although this is advertised as being suitable for 6+, it is easy to see the attention of younger viewers wandering.

Michelle Chantelle Hopewell. Pic: Kirsty Anderson

McKnight’s direction of the show, and Stewart Kyasmire’s direction of the film, are carefully considered. However, the switching of shots to indicate ‘asides’ begins to pall, especially as the whole thing is addressed directly to the viewer to begin with. Stirling Castle is an impressive backdrop to some of the scenes, but is used somewhat sparingly, and tends to be overshadowed by Kenny Miller’s suitably eye-popping costumes.

Despite all of these faults, the show scores highly in straightforward enjoyability. McKnight’s Paige Ootabook, the dame-narrator, is pitched just right between stage and screen, and his comic nous rubs off on the other performers.

simply fabulous

Michelle Chantelle Hopewell and Julie Wilson Nimmo are compelling comic figures. Reuben Joseph is impressively versatile as the ‘daft laddie’ character Prince Hairy. Katie Barnett’s Gothel is a wonderfully judged bit of witchy evil, while Darren Brownlie is simply fabulous as glamorous flower Rosey Posey. Amber Sylvia Edwards, meanwhile, is excellent as Rapunzel, giving a timely spin on the panto heroine, and it is not her fault that her segment ultimately is the least clear in where it is heading.

Darren Brownlie. Pic: Rob McDougal

The commitment and skill of the performers go a long way to overcoming any unavoidable problems in putting together a family Christmas entertainment in 2020. Once again, this is something that is both giving gainful employment to creative artists and providing cheer to audiences, and must be applauded.

Running time 1 hour 12 minutes

National Theatre of Scotland online

Available from 10.00 am on Wednesday 23 December 2020 until 11.59 pm on Monday 4 January 2021.
Tickets are on a ‘pay what you can’ basis.
Click here  for details,
And her for tickets.

Tickets can be booked up until 10.00 pm on 4 January.

Julie Wilson Nimmo. Pic: Kirsty Anderson


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