Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Overall, it’s a very atmospheric and well put together show. The acting was of a pretty high standard all round, and the set, lighting and costumes worked very well to enhance the production.
It is immediately clear as we enter the theatre for Fourth Monkey’s new production of Rapunzel, that we’re in for a highly atmospheric show, and the promise of a dark fairy tale adaptation is to be fulfilled. As the audience take their seats a large, all-female chorus paces through the performance space, each cooing to and giggling at a bundle in their arms. It could be sweet, endearing, but the low, cold lighting and subtle background music makes it feel decidedly sinister.
We are quickly introduced to two separate plots which interweave; that of Lila, a modern mother suffering from post-natal depression, and, of course, the story of Rapunzel herself. This story, too, begins with a mother, played by the same actress who plays Lila; on discovering that she is pregnant, she and her daughter Rosa go to the tower of the three witches to find a plant that will abort the baby- the Rapunzel plant. The witches find them and cast a spell which forces the baby to be born immediately, leading to the first of many agonized on-stage births, and then take the child for themselves. We then see her Prince (in this version a farm boy by the name of Edmund) being born, and follow them as they grow up and the witches’ fears of losing their child worsen.
This production, unlike other versions of the story I know, is hugely preoccupied with themes of motherhood and growing up, considered from both a parental and child’s point of view. This, by extension, also brings out ideas about sexual repression and the oppression of women. When Rapunzel finds blood on her sheets one morning she is urged to hide it from her “mothers” by the kindly maid. She is also forced to bind her breasts to retain a more child-like shape; when the bandage is finally taken off the audience shares in her blissful feeling of freedom and release. The modern story also complements these themes and develops them, although at times it felt slightly disparate, and it might have been nice to see more linking elements between the two stories than just this overarching theme of motherhood. I also found myself confused as to whether Lila and Rosie (her nurse) were supposed to be the same characters as those played by the same actresses in the fairytale story, somehow transported to our reality, or entirely different people, and some clarification of this might have been nice.
The chorus play a huge part in this production, watching events unfold and forming human obstacles as characters go on journeys, performing movement sequences and creating sound to represent storms or Edmund climbing up the hair. The chorus work was generally very effective, but I did have my reservations. While all fairly tightly choreographed, it all somehow felt rather woolly and imprecise- why did Edmund need to twirl around repeatedly on his way up the hair? Did that really represent anything, or did they just want some fancy looking movement? I was inclined to think the latter. The stage was constantly busy with their movement and soundscape, which worked at points, but sometimes just felt busy and cluttered. It would have been nice to strip it down more occasionally and go for the less-is-more approach.
Overall, it’s a very atmospheric and well put together show. The acting was of a pretty high standard all round, and the set, lighting and costumes worked very well to enhance the production. However, there were times that it felt just a little bit… youth theatre-ey, somehow. It felt rather like they were taking themselves and the story a little too seriously, particularly in the more airy-fairy chorus sections. A little bit of lightness or humour occasionally wouldn’t have gone amiss. I certainly still enjoyed watching it and would recommend it, particularly to those, like me, who enjoy a twisted fairytale. It was just a shame that these few considerations prevented what was definitely a good show from becoming a really great one.