Theatre Royal Stratford East
Guest reviewer: Nicola Louise
It’s Christmas! Which can only mean one thing … It’s Panto time!! ‘Oh no it isn’t’ ‘Oh yes it is’…you get the point! I was lucky enough to be invited to Theatre Royal Stratford East’s performance of Rapunzel, not exactly a show you’d think would work as a pantomime, but it surprisingly did. Throw in Goldilocks and the Three Bears and apparently, you’ve got yourself a story.I have nothing bad to say about the cast, they were brilliant from beginning to end.
Our story starts with a little warm up to the panto from baby bear and Witch Maddy’s aid, Egor, a bird that has a heart of gold but has fallen into the wrong crowd.Baby Bear, Harry as he wanted to be known, does a very good job of getting the crowd going and Gemma Slater (Harry), clearly knows how to work with children. When Egor (Gary Wood) joined Harry on stage, the two created pantomime magic before the show had officially begun.
Rapunzel, the girl locked in the tower with the long luscious locks was amazing, carrying the wig of long hair on her head, she managed to run around the stage with ease. My only concern was that during her first song, Joanne Sandi, (Rapunzel) seemed to struggle to have her voice heard over the music and seemed to be having to shout. However I think the conductor realised this as the music dropped a little and she was able to be heard.
Unlike most pantomimes, this one didn’t have a hero, instead, a heroine. Goldilocks played by Australian actress Julie Yammanee, a strong-willed young girl who only wanted an adventure and got more than she bargained for. Julie’s interpretation of this fairy tale character you either love or hate, was done in such a way that you couldn’t help but love her, her upbeat rock number stole the show.Now, no panto is complete without the Dame, or the evil witch in this case, Witch Maddy, played by Rada trained Michael Bertenshaw, a different type of Dame. While they’re usually bigger guys dressed in over the top outfits and wigs, Witch Maddy was slim and slender… and old! The story goes that Witch Maddy needs Rapunzel’s hair to create a potion to make her young. Michael brings a lot of jokes for the adults, mostly women as she makes a lot of menopause jokes, but also manages to get the men in the audience to laugh as well.
Sidekicks … every villain needs them, every villain has them, Witch Maddy’s villains went by the names of Iggy, played by Raj Bajaj and Lizzy, Juliet Okotie, two humans under Maddy’s spell who were once Lizards. As side kicks I found them quite irritating, there’s over the top and then there’s Iggy and Lizzy, but as Baby Bear’s parents, I found them hilarious and they worked as a team much better; especially when Juliet, as Mrs Bear started singing how Baby Bear should have listened to her, it went on and on but got funnier every time, the parent’s in the audience related while Mr Bear stood to stage left, leaning and rolling his eyes.I never want to see the bad in any show I see but there’s always going to be at least one or two points.
When we first see Rapunzel and her little mouse friend played by the versatile Stephen Hoo, he makes a small Brexit joke, now I agree, it was quite funny but I feel this was a little unnecessary, it didn’t get too much of a laugh and it’s a little dated now.
A couple of the scenes went on a bit too long, for example, and without giving away any spoilers, the mum and dad scene was sweet, and it did choke me up a little, however, it did lose its magic by repeating the same line from the song over and over again. It worked for Mrs Bear yes, but I think this scene should be shortened to pack in a bit more punch. I also thought the end song was a bit too long, it was about togetherness and friendship and as sweet as it was, you do start to think to yourself ‘ok great, we get it! Next!’I’ve not seen many pantos in London where they have songs written for the show which I love because it makes it that bit more personal. Witch Maddy sang snippets of chart songs but it worked with her character, I loved that the songs in it were original and the song Goldilocks sang, in my opinion, was the best.Overall, I was sceptical about this show but it worked, and I was happy I got to see it. I think there are a few things that could be worked on but overall, as Panto’s go, it was up there with the greats.Rapunzel runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 13th January 2018.Photo credit: Scott Rylander