Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Rapunzel and the Tower of Doom
Theatre of Widdershins/Escaltor East to Edinburgh
Venue: The Scottish Storytelling Centre
Not only is the set wonderful, but the puppets are also beautifully designed, making this show a feast for the eyes and a visual spectacle for the imagination to chew on for some time later. What should also get children’s imaginations going – and those of the adults too – is the darkness of the story, which Theatre of Widdershins have bravely reinstated, reclaiming Rapunzel from the realm of cheery, Disney-fied fairy tales.
The Theatre of Widdershins has a long track record of producing quality children’s puppet shows – ‘Rapunzel and the Tower of Doom’ is a worthy addition to their canon. A single man – apparently a fruit and veg seller – uses puppetry, silly wigs and a big hat to tell the story of the girl with the infamously long hair. I say ‘allegedly’…Andy Lawrence is wasted on selling fruit and veg, and his sales patter is doomed form the moment he cheerfully points out that his stock is all plastic. Luckily, he’s a winning and engaging story teller, chopping and changing between different voices with astounding ease; he doesn’t even need the puppets/costumes some times.
The problem I’ve always found with fairy tales presented for children is that the original darkness and horror (the ‘Grimmness’, if you’ll pardon the pun) is often either watered down or just removed. That leaves some fairy tales feeling pretty tame. Widdershins are braver than that. Most of the chilling darkness from the beginning of the Grimm tale is present and correct, especially in the figure of Mrs. Smith (a green witch with burning eyes). They’ve expanded here and there, filling in some detail and cheered it all up a bit, but in such a way that stays true to the spirit of the Grimms by focussing on entertaining the little ones.
What is particularly lovely about this production is that set, comprised of several fruit boxes that each contain a whole world. I lost count of the number of times something new was folded out of an innocent looking box or flap to subtly change the onstage environment. It must be a nightmare to fold it all back in again, but Lawrence seems happy to go through this nightmare with a smile every day. There’s clearly a lot of care, attention to detail and love invested in the set alone, never mind the show as a whole. The puppets are also beautiful, and you really want to try sitting near the front on the right of the audience if possible; that way, you can really appreciate Rapunzel weeding a garden with such meticulous skill you’d be forgiven for forgetting she was a puppet.
It’s not often you can say that a puppeteer has a good rapport with his puppets, but Lawrence really does. They have frequent aside to ‘the big fella’, a vague nod to them acknowledging their puppet status without being troubled by it. It’s another indication that buckets of love have been invested in this winning production.
This is a charming yet dark tale, with some masterful design work going on. It’s visually beautiful, and refuses to wrap its audience in cotton wool, but rather lets them have the darker stuff without over-doing it. Sit near the front, or you’ll miss the details.