Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto takes on the story of Rapunzel in their latest panto tale
Before seeing RaPUNzel at Red Sandcastle Theatre I had never been to a pantomime, was not sure what to expect. I wondered if there would be audience participation (my inability to find a date for the night meant I had no one to hide behind if that should be the case). Happily, though, I discovered that this is the sort of show that leaves you with your cheeks aching from laughter.
The play is the story of Rapunzel, the first born child of the widow Twanky, who is locked away in a tower with her hare, Bunny, by the evil ogre Monsanto where she must ROMAINE, as punishment for the Romaine lettuce stolen by her father. Did I mention that Monsanto has put a spell on her so she is unable to stop spewing out the most agonizing puns (the last one was straight from the play)? However, you are encouraged to groan loudly at each pun so it is all good!
The story takes a bit of time to take off and there are a few times where the characters’ lines or conversations made me ask myself how this fits into the plot. It then hits me that no one goes to see a pantomime for the dramatic plot lines, instead you need to get stuck in and join in booing Monsanto the ogre, shouting at the obtuse Prince to turn around and see Rapunzel, and in singing the Fifa song (Go Go Go Ole Ole Ole), the reason why becomes clear once you’re in the audience.
Something I find particularly delightful, the re-imagining of popular songs in the context of the panto, my favourite is when the lights hit the disco ball and Twanky and Father started improvising a rap based on A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba” while jiving around the kitchen table.
Amelia Welcher as Rapunzel does a rendition of Pink’s “What About Us” and I think the only reason it isn’t as funny as I feel it’s supposed to be is because Welcher has such an amazing voice that you end up wanting to just listen to her sing rather than laugh at the lyrics.
The songs are accompanied by a fun and lighthearted choreography (created by Jackie English) which the cast perform with aplomb that will leave you smiling from ear to ear.
My favourite character is the incorrigible widow Twanky (Chris Gibbs) who declares her opinions in the most hilarious self-assured matter-of-fact way and in the process sparks much of the chaos in the play.
Farid Yazdani, is very endearing as both the quick tempered and harassed Father — who channels Vito Corleone — and as the self-involved, dimwitted Prince. Watch out for him when he busts a few stealthy moves while sneaking into the ogre’s garden.
Taran Beaty is a natural in the role of the big bad ogre, he shakes his fist at the audience as they boo him, and he is all scowls and menace as he threatens to eat Father. Yet this exterior keeps cracking continuously as we discover that Monsanto is a vegan and an enthusiastic gardener who is desperately trying to retain his reputation as a monster. Beaty also showcases his musical talent as he sings about what a baddie he is.
While I absolutely relished Jackie English’s portrayal of the Cheshire cat, it feels as though the part of the cat is jammed into the play, her appearances feel like unrelated asides and don’t serve to push the action forward. The Cheshire has appeared in all past seven pantos by Red Sandcastle Theatre and it seems she’s written in because audiences have come to expect to see the character.
Rosemary Doyle, the playwright, makes cameo appearances as Nonna, the archetypal Old Country granny, who comes on stage to help transition scenes seamlessly. Her physicality in this role is so convincing and amusing that I wish she had some lines.
RaPUNzel has buckets of charm and parodies galore. I have no regrets about going to see this play on Boxing Day during an extreme cold weather alert. In fact, I would be happy to pay the full ticket price and take friends. I highly recommend it!
- RaPUNzel is playing until January 7, 2018 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. East).
- Tickets are $25 Adult, $15 Child and $60 for the Family Fun Pack.
- Shows run at 7 pm and 3 pm matinees, see website for specific dates.
- Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at (416) 845-9411.
- The venue is small so booking ahead is recommended.
Photo of Chris Gibbs and Kristen Foote provided by the company