As the audience enters York’s Studio Theatre for Rapunzel, the three actors are preening themselves in mirrors, applying make-up, striking poses and asking for help from the audience. If it all seems a little self-conscious to this elderly reviewer, it certainly seems to work in putting the children at their ease: one little girl behind me was giggling with delight as she “assisted” Rapunzel’s Nan with her make-up. In fact all tutti frutti’s canny ways of reassuring and entertaining 3-7 year olds probably bear even more fruit at most performances: there was a larger than usual adult presence for the Press Performance.
Mike Kenny’s version of the Rapunzel story is kindlier and homelier than the Brothers Grimm’s. Her mother has disappeared (who knows where?) and she is brought up by her Nan who may or may not be a witch – Kenny relishes ambiguities. Nan builds a tower to protect Rapunzel from the world; Rapunzel delights in the ever more distant views from the window. The action moves along by deliberately inconclusive annual scenes: despite the reassuring repetition, the children need to work out how she has changed each year. The story centres on Rapunzel’s growing up and need for independence – also Nan’s ability to trust the world.
Wendy Harris’ production is full of variety: three-person narrative, mime, semi-realistic dialogue scenes, knockabout action, song and dance. Chris Mellor’s music is especially appealing, with a catchy repeated song, imaginative percussion, sweet sounds of nature and Latin and jazzy dance rhythms. Gayle Newbolt’s knowing innocence as Rapunzel is perfect; Max Gallagher as Rafi, the boy who climbs the tower, radiates sincerity and enthusiasm; Selina Zaza’s Nan is dynamic in action, if rather mannered in speech. Though inevitably small-scale, Catherine Chapman’s set is both whimsical and practical and lets the extravagant costumes and Rapunzel’s amazing hair supply the colour.
Rapunzel runs at York Theatre Royal until 13 October and then tours nationally.