Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Rapunzel at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

This light-hearted, good natured family show is talented Knee-High Theatre Companyâs reinvention of their smash hit show staged at the BAC last Christmas.

An abandoned baby girl is found and adopted by Mother Gothel (Charlie Barnecut), the herbalist and named Rapunzel, in honour of the plant she has been left under. The child not only grows older, but more beautiful, so much so that when she is fourteen, Mother Gothel locks her away in a high tower, which is only accessible via the girl's extraordinarily long hair.

Puppets, pyrotechnics and hi-jinxs galore are part of the landscape for Rapunzel and those in her proximity, as the show's characters slide down a fire pole, climb scaffolding, or swing through the air to the delight of the children and their families sitting on oversized cushions around the performance areas. That's not to say that the rest of the audience was exempt from involvement however, as the players often moved beyond the boundaries of their three wooden performance platforms, one of which served as a stage for the versatile singers and musicians, holding court in the aisles, in true panto fashion, while interacting with fellow performers, as well as onlookers, and a few hearty characters lead intermittent sing-a-longs.

Edith Tankus makes a feisty, irrepressible Rapunzel, playing her frantically physical role for all it's worth, also entertaining the crowd with her fine singing on the classic, ‘It's a Sin to Tell a Lie,' following the interval. Charlie Barnecutt is slightly reminiscent of Dame Edna as the rather rotund Mother Gothel, drawing hisses from the audience in his eviler moments. He is also very funny in the role of Patrizio's brother ‘Prince' Paulo. Rapunzel's love interest, Patrizio is played with ardent fervor by Pieter Lawman, who also plays a mean accordion. James Traherne is suitably grand as the Duke of Tuscany and sharply off the cuff in the part of Shark Fantini. Kirsty Woodward is saucy as Prezzemolina, a street-smart young lady, who gives as good as she gets. However, Paul Hunter drew the biggest laughs as Pierluigi Ambrosi, teasing Rapunzel mercilessly while working the crowd via rapid delivery of his often humorously topical lines.

The lively musical accompaniment, written by Stu Barker, and provided by the players themselves, is a real cross-section, touching on many types of music, including celtic, folk and middle-eastern, among others. Puppets and props, created by Laura MacKenzie lend a surreal touch at just the right moments, while sets designed by Michael Vale and built by Giles Brooks enable quick movements and scene changes. Costumes by Susanna Wilson are colourfully rustic, and sound design, courtesy of Dominic Bilkey adds suitably rural or city effects.

This warm-hearted retelling of a familiar tale could be a welcome respite for families on a cold winter's night, particularly during the Christmas season.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre till Saturday 5 January 2008
Tickets: 15 – 28 Box Office: 0871 663 2500

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