Like most of Scotland’s producing theatres, the Citizens Theatre does not, as a matter of principle, “do” panto. Yet magic acorns, audience participation and a plot-significant singalong are still on the menu this Festive season thanks to this impressive and at-times genuinely unnerving presentation of the story of Rapunzel by playwright Annie Siddons, directed by Lu Kemp.
Kemp’s staging on Rachel Canning’s deceptively rough and ready set, full of nooks, crannies and access down below, is effective without being distracting
Rapunzel begins with an abandoned baby, discovered and raised by the herbalist Mother Gothel. Life is happy until a male visitor notes that Rapunzel is becoming an attractive young woman. In response Mother Gothel imprisons her daughter in a tower only accessible by climbing her increasingly long hair. Yet this isn’t the end of the matter; the tower is discovered by a wondering young Tuscan Prince named Patrizio. The pair immediately fall in love, a romance that both declare neither deliberate machinations nor simple misunderstandings can destroy.
While, on this occasion, decked out in flowers, the Citizens Theatre is nevertheless adept at presenting both physical and emotional darkness on stage – all praise to lighting designer Lizzie Powell. This is entirely appropriate; as in all the best fairy tales, there are genuinely nasty aspects to this story – not least Gothel’s blinding of Patrizio. Siddons’ own particular take on Rapunzel is clearly that it’s a story about obsession: specifically, how a mother’s protective desire can turn her into a monster. Yet there are other obsessions on show here too: Rapunzel’s own preoccupation with romantic love, which almost kills her; a Tuscan Duke’s determination to find his lost son that near bankrupts his Dukedom; and even the desire for political power by Patrizio’s brother, Paulo.
Kemp’s staging on Rachel Canning’s deceptively rough and ready set, full of nooks, crannies and access down below, is effective without being distracting; placing Rapunzel (an excellent Jessica Hardwick, last seen in the epic Citizens Theatre production, Lanark: A Life in Three Acts) on a swing raised up above the stage is a brilliantly simple way to represent her tower prison without building one.
Ewan Somers – one of the Citizens’ current actor interns – is an excellent young lead as Patricio, albeit necessarily denied the audience appreciation directed towards kind-hearted criminal Ambrosi, played by an engaging Peter Collins. Yet the real plaudits must go to Wendy Seager; a seasoned performer in Scottish theatre for many years, here she excels as both the increasingly monstrous Mother Gothel and the endearingly obnoxious Tuscan Prince Paulo. It’s only fair that she’s gifted with the biggest Wow-moment of the production.
For all its moments of darkness, however, there’s still plenty to laugh at here too – not least the blind Patrizio’s reliance at one point on a “Glasgow Kiss” to get him out of trouble, or the occasional “assistance” provided by a stony-faced stage manager. Nevertheless, when compared to most of the shows on in Glasgow this Christmas, the Citizens’ Rapunzel definitely offers a satisfyingly fuller festive experience.