Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
The Brunton’s panto is a little different this year – Oh yes it is! Covid means the Brunton’s 2020 offering was filmed, with smaller audiences able to watch Rapunzel in the venue’s cinema. As it turned out, tier changes meant that plan was abandoned, but a web link ensures kids of all ages don’t have to miss out.
And while a live audience is oxygen to panto performers, recorded Rapunzel is a triumph. Topical gags have always been part of panto, so making the trials of 2020 the heart of this retelling of the well-loved tale makes perfect sense.
As ever with Brunton festive season shows, the story is set in Musselburgh, where our Dame, Jessie Jobseeker (Graham Crammond), is out one day with baby Rapunzel (Eilidh Weir). They run into the local Witch (Wendy Seager), who befuddles the nanny and steals the bairn.
Eighteen years later, Rapunzel lives alone in Hopetoun Tower, her only visitor the Witch, who keeps herself young by brushing her prisoner’s magical golden hair on her infrequent visits and takes advantage of the pandemic to keep Rapunzel in line (‘The library is a health hazard. There’s a PLAGUE out there!’). Jessie Jobseeker and her son, Jammy Dodger (Ross Donnachie), still hope they can one day find the missing girl…
‘I’ve had to self isolate and socially distance for 18 years’ says our sad heroine, as Covid rages through the Honest Toun. Jammy, meanwhile, like any daft lad, wants us to be his pals, but asks that instead of shouting back at him, we give him two thumbs up.
Which we do, even though we’re sitting on a settee at home rather than in the theatre. And we boo the witch. AND feel able to shout ‘oh no, you’re NOT’ at suitable junctures.
Director John Binnie’s script would have worked for an ‘as live’ audience, but it still makes for a great show. Filmed at the Brunton thanks to a grant from Creative Scotland’s Performing Arts Venue Relief Fund, Rapunzel has all the good cheer you could want in a pantomime.
The four Brunto panto veterans convey their chemistry through the camera lens, adapting their wonderful performance to take advantage of the ability to get right in our face.
Close-ups aren’t the only advantage of this year’s unique – and fingers crossed it remains so – production. The chase sequence round the auditorium is a staple of the genre, but this Rapunzel has the freedom to go further. Jobseeker Jessie hurtles after Jammy Dodger not just on the stage, but through the Brunton bar and out into the streets.
Over the bridge and into the High Street they go, stopping at Gregg’s for a Festive Bake and Luca’s for an ice cream, ensuring all mask and distancing rules are observed. It’s a clever sequence, one that will make this recording valuable to historians generations from now… but most importantly, it’s blooming funny.
clever original songs
Plus, we get super-speedy costume changes, the hilarious sight of Weir crammed into a pram in a baby bonnet, magical effects, a black and white sequence and Jammy ‘climbing’ the tower like Batman in the Sixties’ TV series.
Tommie Travers’ clever original songs, which sit alongside Cole Porter and Dolly Parton numbers, are a lot easier to appreciate when you’re closer to them. The cast’s cover of The Struts’ Strange Days as the credits roll, interspersed with rhyming couplets offering hope for the future, is as poignant as any piece of art I’ve come across this year.
Binnie elegantly reframes the Covid crisis for younger souls, with a rather brilliant singalong sheet and Jammy – wearing his face mask and giving a spare to Rapunzel – telling her that the world has changed, but to look on life today as an adventure.
That’s a pretty great message for kids, nicely set within the magic of pantomime – the classic characters, over-the top costumes, stupid-clever gags and assurance that Happy Ever After is on the horizon.
And that’s something we could all do with hearing.
Running time: 1 hour
The Brunton online.
Tue 15 Dec – Sunday 3 January
To watch online Book here.