Monday 23 July 2018

Rapunzel, Gaiety Theatre Panto review: 'The most audience-interactive panto in recent years - the crowd lapped it up'

Fiona Ness

A standing ovation on an opening night can’t be wrong - especially one that goes on so long that Nanny Ninny Noonah (Joe Conlan) has to intervene and tell you all to give it a rest. There’d be time for more clapping in a bit, anyway.

Rapunzel is the theme of this year’s Gaiety panto, and this faerytale retelling sticks broadly to the story arc of the Disney movie of the same name; there’s even room for a few of the soundtrack numbers, amongst a mix of reworked pop classics. There’s a king who has lost his baby girl; a golden-haired teen with magical properties (Ciara Lyons), an evil stepmother who has spirited her away to a tower, a couple of hapless henchmen (it helps that they’re from Cork) and a dashing travelling minstrel (Johnny Ward) who knows how to work a crowd. Nanny is the archetypal pantomime dame - the glue that holds the extrapolated parts of the story together, panto-style.

This is a panto on the run, as Rapunzel escapes the tower to experience the world, visit Penney’s and have a cocktail in Coppers for her 18th birthday. Due to the linear nature of the storyline, there are less set-driven scenes with developmental dialogue; something that previous Gaiety pantos (most notably Into The Woods) did so well. Still, the children didn’t seem to mind, with the seven-year-old marking it out as the best Gaiety panto yet. The nine-year-old preferred Peter Pan and her friend was wowed by last year’s Sleeping Beauty. Fast forward a few years and they’ll no doubt be ready to write their theses on the restorative power of panto.

The Gaiety Panto is always first off the blocks on the Christmas panto circuit and such was the initial booking fury that the run was extended further into January on opening night. With a snazzily revolving set and a beautifully worked electronic backdrop, this is also the most audience-interactive panto in recent years. The crowd lapped it up.

Awash with panto stalwarts, it was nevertheless Evil Stepmother (Kathryn Rutherford in a debut Gaiety role) who stole the show. She oozed evil while reeling the audience in with lashings of charisma and sparkle (what a dress!). Her diction was right from the classic pantos of my Glasgow childhood, as was her pitch perfect vocal control. We were putty in her villainous hands. It was a shame then that Rutherford never had the on-stage opportunity to be pitched properly against Nanny, who instead shared most of her scenes with the equally extrovert King Larry (Nicholas Grennell).

“Whatever happened to my part?” entoned Rutherford in a show-stopping number, echoing the sentiments of many a middle-aged critic (or maybe that’s just me?). Proving there is pathos - oh yes there is - in panto too.

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