Review of Rapunzel as pantomime returns to The Customs House in South Shields for 2021
Stressed after month after endless month of a global pandemic?
Let your hair down and allow Rapunzel and this year’s brilliant Customs House panto to ease your cares and worries.
Being back in the company of Dame Bella and her daft son Arbuthnot is like being reunited with old friends who you hadn’t seen for too long.
And that’s exactly what it is.
The story of Rapunzel is not one traditionally used for panto, but works well – a simple narrative with a touch of magic and sufficient strong characters to grab and maintain your interest.
Writers Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson have a fresh, modern take on the story that has far more in common with Disney’s Tangled than the traditional German fairytale.
Rapunzel has been locked in Cleadon Tower since she was a child, with only her talking pig for company. Evil ‘stepmother’ Gothel keeps her locked away to control King Richard, meanwhile, Rumpelstiltskin wants to spin her hair into gold and Much the miller’s son wants to rescue her.
As usual, it’s all kicking off in Cooksonville where Dame Bella and her hapless son Arbuthnot are setting up a new hair salon.
Beth Clarke is impressive in the titular role and has a great singing voice – as has Eleanor Chaganis who is impressive as the panto baddie Gothel. She milks the boos and hisses with great aplomb.
Steven Lee Hamilton (Much) gets better and better every year. He was always the perfect leading man, but his experience and talent have given him the confidence to bring an ironic tilt to his performances which brings so much to the piece overall.
Customs House stalwart Wayne Miller is super as King Richard, bringing energy and a real twinkle to every scene he is in. I wanted to see more of him, and his duet with Dame Bella is a thing of beauty – Ah, Yes I Remember It Well from Gigi has rarely been performed better.
Newcomer William Wyn Davies is a joy as Rumpelstiltskin, full of quirky charm, while Chloe Jane Millar oozes fun and smiles as Fairy Fearnedew.
But at the core of the ‘little panto with the big heart’ are Dame Bella (Ray Spencer) and Arbuthnot (Davey Hopper). Both are naturally funny with outstanding comic timing, but together they a panto dream team – the gags and laughs are constant and effortless.
The slapstick scene is excellent, but their Morecambe and Wise breakfast routine is a wonder of timing that is worth the ticket price alone. Ray and Davey have a comedic telepathy and both instinctively know how to work an audience.
Musical highlights include a Dua Lipa duet between Davey and Chloe; the Who I’d Be number from Shrek and an amazing rendition of Gary Barlow’s Incredible by Steven and Beth.
Pace is a vital component to any successful panto and under the expert direction of Ray and associate director Natasha Haws, Rapunzel fairly rattles along.
Sami Fendall has done a great job with both costumes and set design – the tower and South Shields Groyne are particularly striking.
After two long years it was so good to be back at a panto – and in such safe and experienced hands you’re guaranteed a great night out.
:: Rapunzel, written by Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson, at The Customs House, South Shields until January 8