Like the mythical princess fleeing her high tower, this terrifically absurd show lets its hair down to escape the shackles of conventional panto. Rapunzel is Park Theatre's third family-friendly Christmas production; the latest instalment in Jez Bond and Mark Cameron's ‘Chronicles of Waa'.
Waa is a fantastical but familiar world – there is plotting, poison, and a heroic prince named Corbyn (Alex Hope). Between times, baddie Baron Teth (Mark Cameron) laments his lost boyfriend Derek – yes, boyfriend, children, "because it's 2015, you know". And our King and Queen have a scintillating soul repertoire with which to express their woes as a foul plot descends on the kingdom.
The royals (Aretha Ayeh and Rolan Bell) await the birth of their daughter, the future queen of Püss Püss. But, unbeknownst to them, a cockney crook with designs on the throne has disguised himself as a noble Baron to gain access to the court – and to the palace's drinks cabinet.
With a feather in his cap and a greasy cape tossed over his shoulder, Cameron's Baron is as reminiscent of an opera villain as a Fagin-esque child snatcher. He enters to strains of Brahms and Bizet, raising the sophistication of the genre at a mere stroke of the violin. Spiking the Queen's drink, he executes a scheme which leaves the royal couple fighting to save mother and baby.
The poison has a cure: a herb called Rapunzel. A witch has some, claims the Baron, but the trade-off is that the young princess must be whisked away from her parents. Desperate, the royals agree (via a couple of rollicking solo songs) - and so it is that the baby ends up in the tower. Eighteen years later, she is Rapunzel, growing her hair (dreadlocks), and kept under lock and key by the Baron.
Enter the fairly traditional fairy-tale plotline, and the relatively untraditional Prince Corbyn. He's a bumbling and naïve journeyman still finding his way, but nonetheless a force for good in a land in which the dark off-stage evil of one "Donald Trump" lingers, ever-present.
Getting laughs out of the grown-ups like any good children's show ought to, Jez Bond's direction ensures a savvy balance between wackiness and earthy, pithy realism. Ingratiating himself with the court medic Doctor Chuff (Avita Jay), the Baron is adept at peculiar patter ("come away with me, and let's flannel all weekend!") but also, it will transpire, at maintaining the palace's sewerage systems.
If it's joyful nonsense you're hoping for this yuletide, Rapunzel is a fairytale booking – with audience involvement at a premium, and a creative musical score. As they say in Waa, Finsbury fumbles!