Chickenshed Theatre, London – until 6 January 2018
How lucky am I to have had the privilege to watch this nearly sold out, ground-breaking new musical! Written and directed by Lou Stein, this magical show has original mood-setting music by Dave Carey and sparkling new lyrics by Lou Stein and Dave Carey.
Rapunzel’s fantastic cast of children and young adults represent a cross-section of 21st Century Britain. The inclusive cast of Rapunzel are genuinely diverse: from physically disabled to able-bodied, learning disabled to neurotypical. The actors are from a variety of ethnicities, cultures and ages, it makes me so proud. It also shows the transformative power of theatre and in particular the Chickenshed Theatre.
It is not just that Chickenshed’s ethos is put in to practice; Rapunzel itself is a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable family musical. Everyone and everything in it meets the standards of West End Theatre. I believe the West End could learn a lot from Chickenshed Theatre by seeing this musical.
The high standard of singing in Rapunzel is a match for the best West End Musicals; the main protagonists sing clearly in lovely harmonies and make you feel the mix of emotions that unfurl as the story progresses. There are so many standout performances. Sarah Connolly impresses as Queen Aramynta, singing in a strong clear alto voice, accurately hitting every note and evoking the grief of loss and the joy of love in “She Will Return to Us One Day”.
I also loved Gemilla Shamruk as Gothel the Witch, as intended, she is the pantomime villain, mean and evil with a powerhouse voice which made me shudder, in particular her song “Don’t Mess with Me” is a fantastic rock ‘n’roll/boogie woogie number. Cerys Lambert depicts the innocence and steely determination of Rapunzel which came through in all of her numbers including the lovely “Sweet the Dreams”. Lambert’s solo in “I Want it All,” excellently portrays Rapunzel’s excitement in anticipating everything she can discover in the world and in life.
What about the comedy duo of Hitty (a cat) played by Nathaniel Leigertwood with all the feline movements and slyness of a cat and Theobald, stylishly and flamboyantly acted by Will Lawrence, who were Gothel the Witch’s servants? They were really funny, combining slapstick humour, wit, movement and dance, they deserve their own show. They performed a combination of song, spoken word and a rap which was fun. Ariachne, played by Lauren Cambridge, is brilliant too and not just because of her wonderful spiderwoman costume, which is like an SAS soldier dressed for behind enemy lines combat. Even though Ariachne is one of Gothel the Witch’s guards, she was enslaved by Gothel, Cambridge plays her conflicted interests very well. The costumes for the cast of 200 are brilliant, simple but effective. The Creative Team for Rapunzel has to be congratulated for their resourcefulness and imagination. The set is as good as the West End, it looks amazing and the transitions between scenes are fluid.
Other outstanding performances are Finn Walters as Dryope, the narrator who enthusiastically guides us and the childrenm whom Hazel babysits, through the play. Dryope would make a good friend; he seems to know everything and is so helpful. Michael Bossisse as King Philip, has the imposing presence of royalty, together with the attentiveness of a statesman who really loves his family and subjects. Henry, A Youn Woodsman, played by Philip Rothery, has great comic timing, his pratfalls are funny which is perfect for a clumsy character,.
Rapunzel is so inclusive that all the signers perform in the musical; they all act, sing and dance. I was informed that all the cast are taught sign language. This is another lesson that the West End should learn from Chickenshed Theatre.
The ensemble numbers made up of young children and young adults are magical, they all sing, rap and dance in unison. Their dancing is well choreographed and often very funny including “The Gnome Tango” number, where Ashley Driver as Nolder the Chief of the Gnomes, shows great comic skill, at one point dancing Gangnam style. There is also a young girl in the scene who leads the singing with a beautiful voice.
The young children in the cast, are very natural performers and not at all stage school-like, they are very realistic. Part of the reason for this, must be the way Chickenshed Theatre teaches their performers. Rapunzel was workshopped with young people who were asked what they thought. One of the things that emerged was they didn’t want a prince for Rapunzel, because it wasn’t realistic. This is why we have the character of Henry A Young Woodsman, who is Rapunzel’s friend and potential romantic interest.
So the plot of Rapunzel is built as a modern fairy tale, which works excellently. It begins with Hazel babysitting a group of young children telling them the story of Rapunzel. This morphs into a dream, where Hazel is an intelligent, independent and feisty Rapunzel and the children, via a several adventures, try to find and rescue her. We also discover Rapunzel’s and all the other main characters backstories. I will not tell you what happens as I strongly encourage you all to see it yourselves. As with all fairytales there is a happy ending with uplifting messages. The main message from Rapunzel is for peace, love, joy and understanding, which is apt for the Christmas season. Dryope’s solo also urges us to explore “what you are made of and what you can be” in the finale “Believe Your Dream”, appropriate for a New Year.
Chickenshed’s production of Rapunzel has now made me believe in fairytales. I am in awe of everyone involved in producing and performing in Rapunzel, for bringing this fairytale to life in a gorgeous new modern musical. I applaud everyone from the talented live band playing off stage, to the slick stagehands, the superb creative team, including the set and costume designers and choreographers and of course the talented cast of 800 children and young adults who perform in rotations of 200. What a fabulous Christmas gift!
Rapunzel is on at the Chickenshed Theatre from 22 November 2017-6 January 2018. Click on www.chickenshed.org.uk for further information.