The Easter holiday is well under way and in theatre world there’s a bunch of really cool things going on. I’ve been to a couple of shows now that are marketed as ‘for the kids’ but this Newcastle-based balletLorent production of Rapunzel slams them all out of the playing field.
balletLorent offers high quality dance experiences to people of all ages, but mostly seek to inspire and engage younger individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds. What’s great about both this company and plenty of others is their desire to reach out to people that wouldn’t usually be interested in or are ignorant about dance – particularly classical forms such as ballet. This company also has performers aged between six and 16, and invite parents with babies and toddlers to take part in the opening prologue – which is a ridiculously cute thing to see.
The stage perfectly houses this beautiful and elaborate production and Phil Eddolls’ brilliantly-crafted set moves around swiftly, with the crew and performers manipulating it to suit the story. The focus is a series of tall, Gothic-styled ‘walls’ that are used for everything from Rapunzel’s parents’ home and lookout onto the forbidden garden, to the tower itself as the child is closed off from the world. I marvelled at how smoothly everything clicks together and especially for a young target audience, how professional it comes across – though perhaps I shouldn’t have had such low expectations.
I’ve a real penchant for lighting design and have found that it can turn a good show into something extraordinary. Malcolm Rippeth’s mood lighting here is gorgeous and adds a strong, emotional aspect to Rapunzel, especially as the day progresses and we see a backdrop turn from blue to orange to purple.
Whilst this is a ballet-centred company, a lot of what this show exudes is physical theatre; when ballet is used, it is done in a subtle and non-deliberate way. Liv Lorent’s direction and choreography is just as good as anything I have seen performed at the Royal Opera House or Coliseum, but focuses more on Rapunzel’s parents – something she found missing in alternative versions that has proved to be a winning formula. Both her and Carol Ann Duffy’s writing has brought a fresh take on a very well-known fairy tale and hugely emphasises a number of psychological elements from loss (the parents losing Rapunzel and her ultimately losing the prince) to deprivation (the witch’s inability to have children). Michele Clapton’s costume designs – in particular the caps that are worn on various women’s heads – powerfully represent the loss aspect, as well as signifying a castration of sorts as the mother’s long hair is ripped from her and hidden away as her daughter is taken. Of course, hair itself is a huge factor in this show; interestingly, whilst the lack of it holds a wholly melancholic significance for these women, Rapunzel’s grows whilst being a prisoner but, as it is cut off, she becomes free.
Murray Gold’s composition is heartbreaking and the performers themselves are all great. Natalie Trewinnard’s Rapunzel holds her own up against some very accomplished dancer/actors – particularly Caroline Reece’s Witch, who is a revelation. I imagine her character must be a somewhat difficult one as here, rather than being a completely evil being, she is shown to be a broken woman, unable to have children, which I’m sure many can relate to. Another stand-out is Gwen Berwick’s take on the Queen and her odd but emotionally captivating realisation of her son’s apparent demise. She jerks across the stage en pointe (the only one to wear the shoe) in a nightmarishly weird, yet wonderful way. I loved and appreciated it, though I’m not sure what the young ‘uns thought.
This is the best children’s show I have ever seen and actually one of the best dance pieces – I will definitely be looking out for balletLorent’s future productions.
Rapunzel played at Sadler’s Wells until 19 April and will be touring the country until 20 September. For more information and tickets, see the balletLorent website.