Published on January 4th, 2014 | by Culch.ie0
Rapunzel The Panto in the Solstice Arts Center in Navan
The Gaiety is what it is: safe and reliable. The Olympia has Jedward, which should say it all. The Helix is getting better every year and as for the Tivoli? Well, the less said the better.
So if you don’t want the big prices of the Dublin (or other cities) shows, but don’t want to be in a chilly school hall or community centre and still feel like you at least got some money’s worth, what to do?
You could do a lot worse than heading to the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan, that’s what. This year they’re staging Rapunzel the Panto, the first time I’ve heard of this fairytale being staged.
Brought to you by St Mary’s Musical Society, their pantos (and musicals) have only been getting bigger and better over the years. Yes, they’re an amateur group, run and managed by volunteers who do it for the love of it, and as a hobby but that doesn’t stop them holding their own against the pros in my book.
The show opens with an original story book animation voiced by “Morgan Freeman” (they say it’s the real one but it’s credited in the programme as being voiced by Jason Stephens!) to introduce us to the story about to take place in Hill Ville and animated by Coponfilms. This is another first, for any production amateur or otherwise to invest in an animation to open the show. The characterisation is a little in the Tim Burton direction of styling but with a story that originated with the Brothers Grimm, I suppose that’s not a bad thing.
The show kicks off with a chorus number called “Chick with Long Hair”, to the tune of “Hip to be a Square” from Huey Lewis and the News, with lyrics altered appropriately. I must say it was a great opener, choreographed and performed with more smiling faces and energy than I can place in recent memory on any stage.
And that has to be said for every number in the show. Tina Price is Musical Director and given the amount of sheer creativity she produced SMMS should count themselves lucky they have her. Every song is a well known tune, contemporary and classic and all have their lyrics adjusted to fit the story.
The number that closes act one is a mash up of “Scream and Shout” (Will.I.Am) , “Thrift Shop” (Macklemore), “Fly Away” (Lenny Kravitz), “Bohemian Like You” (Dandy Warhols) and they were just the ones I could pick out. It was seemless and a show of a production team’s talent.
The choreography, from the mind and feet of Deirdre O’Luainagh, to all of those songs also matches completely. Moves to match all levels of ability on the stage and appreciation off of it. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is played in a scary forest scene and put together with the excellent lighting, the choreography was mesmerising. It was unmistakably a Thriller tribute, but not a carbon copy and as we didn’t have to sit through the full original song, it was refreshing and added a nice touch to the pacing of the show.
As for the rest of the choreography, she had her work cut out for her against Tina’s musical choices and met the challenge every step of the way. Incorporating comedy, jive, disco and so many other styles of dance that there was never a moment of “Oh no, another bloody dance number of cheesy smiles and jazz hands!”.
The chorus performers were also in their element, seemingly getting lost in their own world while not taking too much attention away from the action in front of them. A combination of good directing and an understanding chorus. Not an easy thing to get right, especially when sometimes there were at least 25 chorus members on stage.
There are also a wide variety of characters in writer/director Matt McGuirk’s script. And there is humour for everyone. You can easily tell that he’s a fan of Family Guy, South Park and Father Ted. When I say that, a lot of people will expect to turn up and hear jokes we’ve all heard before, but what I mean by that is his style of humour.
He also pulls no punches, there are jokes of course for the kids, but there are undoubtedly jokes there for the adults that are just on the right level of being above the kids’ heads. And even though I’m sure some parents didn’t know if they should laugh or not, I did and out loud!
If I had one criticism of Matt’s script it would be that it was a bit on the wordy side for the younger kids. The jokes were all original (from what I could tell anyway) and the characters were a riot and in stark contrast to each other. The story was well paced and all characters, chorus and kids got equal time on stage. Something that musn’t be easy when writing a script for a local panto! I do think that a few of the scenes could have been shorter, but that’s a minor criticism.
The characters, as I’ve said were all brilliantly written, directed and played.
Bubbles was the male lead/village idiot with the worst chat up lines you could imagine. Played by Brian Phillips, he had the audience eating from his hand the second he was dragging the first “Howayis’s” from the crowd. His presence and experience are undeniable, with comic timing that would match the pros.
His mother, the dame (Nanny Annie, local creche owner) was played by Pat Mullaney and he was a treat. If they were going for a Mrs Brown character in place of the usual screaming drag queens that have plagued Navan’s stages for the last number of years then they nailed it. More of a mammy than a tranny and it worked brilliantly.
Deirdini is the Prince’s assistant and someone who hates everything panto, a very surly effort from Caitriona Mongey. Her fed up attitude and constant grumpiness are something you won’t find in many pantos but it only magnifies the over the top energy from some of the others and I can’t help but feel that she was actually directed that was to give the parents someone to identify with! Giving her jingly slippers as shoes was a piece of genius that I suspect was an inside joke, but it gave me a few giggles.
Rapunzel herself, played by Kate Mitrogiannopoulou (had to spell check her first name). If you could imagine a real Rapunzel who’d been locked away for her whole life, she’d probably be bored, full of fantasy with a whingier tone of voice than the Tesco check out machine girl telling you to remove your items. Surrounded by a cast of comedy characters though, she more than held her own, refusing to be upstaged.
Stephanie Finney played Rapunzel’s captor with the original name of “Old Lady”. Playing the magical old lady who placed Rapunzel in the tower to begin with, she also had no trouble keeping up with the more developed characters of the show. And when her name is revealed at the very end, you may just want to applaud her for her impression!
Truthfully, the whole cast knew what they were doing. Very refreshing.
There are few things I can fault in this production and I’ve already mentioned them, so if you didn’t catch them that’s because there weren’t many. For €15 a ticket (or a family ticket for €50), it’s incredible value. Plus the “professional” shows will charge a hell of a lot more and their running times will usually be padded out with celebrity headliners.
A modern production team in a progressive musical society who obviously love and respect what they do. Adults laughed, kids screamed and boo’ed and by the time the finale was going on, the seats were literally hopping.
A great big 9/10!
Rapunzel The Panto runs in the Solstice Arts Center in Navan until the 12th January. Very limited tickets still available. Check here for full details.