JJ Henry as the Dame (Photography: Josh Tomalin)
At the start of Rapunzel‘s 2hr 15 run time, I was sat serenely in my booth, diligently making notes and admiring (as always) the dinky, festive surrounds of Chipping Norton Theatre, which only seats 214. By the second half, I was stood belting out the singalong, waving my imaginary flag, and scoffing Love Hearts sweets as thrown to me by a pirate. Oh, and I was soaking wet after an altercation with a water gun.
Rapunzel is a brand new adaptation of the classic tale that, as with many pantos, bears little resemblance to the original tale – or even the Disney film Tangled, although the impressive wig is a dead ringer. What it is however, is a fabulous modern panto, right down to Rapunzel’s Doc Marten boots with glitter laces and the Harry Styles-esque swagger of lead man Rudi O’Malley (your pre-teens will swoon, I promise you).
Rhian Lynch as Rapunzel (Photography: Josh Tomalin)
There’s also plenty of panto tropes that we know and love, from the Dame, played expertly by panto old hand J. J. Henry, to the snarling villain Gothel, played by Amy Rhiannon Worth and her imitable pipes. Amazingly, this is lead Rhian Lynch’s first pantomime, and she takes to it with aplomb and wide-eyed earnestness. It’s also the first time round for Alex Cardell as Rudi, but the two cavort around the small stage (and rest of the theatre) like they’re born to it.
Alex Cardell as Rudi (Photography: Josh Tomalin)
Anna Soden has an amazing turn as both scout extraordinaire Max and crazed weasel Waylon (although many parents may find the schtick slightly grating, it never goes on for too long), but my favourite actors were actually Gareth Cooper and Amy Perry, who pull off an impressive number of accents and costume changes to provide secondary characters – some of whom have the funniest lines in the whole thing.
Amy Rhiannon Worth as Gothel (Photography: Josh Tomalin)
Both the gift and curse of Chipping Norton Theatre is the small setting. It feels so intimate that you’re practically sat on stage with the characters, who regularly pop up in other parts of the theatre or come into the audience to cause chaos. Some younger kiddos might find this slightly overwhelming – as well as the aforementioned water gun fight (in which NO-ONE is safe), there’s a loud thunderstorm scene with ‘waves’ that come into the crowd, which left more than one primary school child temporarily in tears. The small setting also means there are no mics, and as a result some of the more complex musical numbers get slightly lost.
Photography: Josh Tomalin
Speaking of the music, composer and lyricist Becky Applin has done a fantastic job, with plenty of toe-tapping numbers that will stick in your head long after the drive home, Love Hearts in hand. As always with panto, they can’t all be winners, but the vast majority were super catchy and performed excellently by the cast. Just be ready to stand for the England-on-the-Wold national anthem!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families! The theatre recommends ages four and up, but there’s plenty here to entertain littlies and adults alike (including one Brexit-adjacent joke that made the teachers in the audience guffaw).
Not for: Children who might easily be overwhelmed by loud sounds, or won’t last the 2hr+ run time.
Rapunzel, 17 Nov – 9 Jan. 2 Spring St, Chipping Norton OX7 5NL