Review: Rapunzel shows once again why Chipping Norton is king of pantomime

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Rapunzel at The Theatre, Chipping Norton, written by Ben Crocker and directed by David Ashley

By Peter Ormerod
Monday, 29th November 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Monday, 29th November 2021, 12:38 pm
'Manages to combine wit with real dramatic tension': Rapunzel at The Theatre, Chipping Norton (photo: Josh Tomalin)
'Manages to combine wit with real dramatic tension': Rapunzel at The Theatre, Chipping Norton (photo: Josh Tomalin)

What can I say about the Chippy Panto? It’s the best. It just is.

This year we are taken to the land of Evergreen, where a princess has just been born. Her name is Rapunzel. But the poor wee thing must pay a price for her father’s misdemeanour. For he stole a bunch of parsley from the wicked witch Gothel (Amy Rhiannon), who in return steals the baby from the loving arms of her nanny, the buxom dame Brunnhilde Blunderberg (J.J. Henry) and imprisons her in a tower, where she sheds tears of gold and grows into a feisty modern young woman (Rhian Lynch).

The hero of this lovely, clever panto is Rudi (Alex Cardall), a sweetly handsome fellow who climbs the tower and rescues her. But it’s not plain sailing thereafter. Far from it. The duo encounter pirates, shipwreck, and other dastardly deeds before finally reaching England on the Wold, where Rudi defeats the wicked witch, and the princess is reunited with her family.

That’s the bare bones of the story. The plot is a lot more complicated than that, but that’s not what matters. It’s the songs, the costumes, the jokes, the rapport with the audience that gives panto its charm, and this panto in particular its edge. All of these are there in rich abundance. But rather than rely on crude innuendo and slapstick for laughs, this one manages to combine wit with real dramatic tension and psychological insight, especially in the character of Gothel, whose motives for holding onto Rapunzel have a touch of tragedy about them, and of Rapunzel herself, who is much more than a caricature.

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    This is a show that adults can enjoy just as much as children, intelligent, warm, and very, very funny.

    * Rapunzel runs until January 9. Visit chippingnortontheatre.com to book.