Review by Ken Ebbens
Full houses on either side of Christmas, who said pantomimes are losing their appeal? Stage-wise I come from a pantomime background throughout the Noughties for local hospital trusts, a member of the “never stop or change them” camp as we lose traditions at our peril. Pantomimes are very British in their traditions and should be an ensemble piece, not a star vehicle as all too often, with obvious jokes for all ages plus an element of farce. Does a Tangled Panto: Rapunzel match up? It certainly did.
It was lovely to see a predominantly young cast honouring their forebears, with a modern twist, but not too much, reassuring that there will be pantomimes in the distant future.
The Lens studio at the Portsmouth Guildhall is an intimate setting, ideal for a pantomime as the cast are very close to the audience, measured in inches rather than feet or yards. The stage is “on the flat” whilst the props etc are 3 quite large video screens, economical in design but surprisingly effective such that after a while you are immersed in the story: a big shout out to the young lighting crew, also very promising for the future.
The audience was the usual mixture of bouncing youngsters of literally all ages from two to fifteen plus family members struggling to contain their beautifully excited children, all buying into the magic and for what is to come…just how it should be.
The story kept very much to the original Brothers Grimm tale, adapted to a Portsmouth setting; as soon as I heard the “Benny Hill” chase music very early on I thought this bodes well, and so it proved. Early on all the children seemed transfixed (and quiet, parents etc not believing their luck although it didn’t last for too long). The dancers came on stage early on, four groups in different age ranges, some traditional choreography but very well done. It wasn’t perfect and nor should it have
been. These are (very) young people learning to perform in front of an audience and they did the job splendidly.
Jokes were plenty, some got a laugh, some not, but that is the vagary of pantoland; the same joke will get a belly laugh one night, not a titter the next night, same joke, same delivery…it is always about the audience. The jokes were refreshingly traditional, nothing “clever”, meaning that both young and not-so-young found things to laugh at…I certainly did.
Traditions continued, the water pistol into the audience, sweets distributed, he’s behind you, oh no it’s not, chasing around and in the audience, all very satisfyingly familiar As for the cast, The Fabulous Josh (Pegasus the Stallion) didn’t overplay the role and got the balance just right keeping the “I’m not a mule/steed/horse etc I’m a Stallion” joke rolling throughout. I’m sure they could play Julian Clary in a biopic. Jennie (Fairy) very good understated role, a good foil for Josh, Leah an excellent Rapunzel, and an excellent voice, whilst Charlotte (baddie) took the show a step further in the second half with her stage presence with the “burlesque” dance a highlight, hinting at the “adult only” version coming in February.
Overall, a very good family-centred show, old-fashioned in its concept, I am glad to say. All I could see at the end was a sea of smiling faces young and old, the best testimonial.
The Snow Queen Christmas 2024 is worth noting. Well done to all. Happy New Year.
Tickets are on sale now for Rapunzel – The Adult Panto and 2024’s panto The Snow Queen!