Fringe Online 2021
The old tale gets a retread with Paige Ootabook, our Dame for the story, taking us through various monologues delivered by the characters online and filmed within the grounds and buildings of Stirling Castle. There is the hairdresser, Anita Haircut, who decided to track down her daughter, Rapunzel, incognito, the twin, Prince Hairy, feart of the throne if they don’t find his sis, yon big six foot dancing Rose, Rosey Posey in the garden and the saviour of Rapunzel as a wean Betty Botanista, as well as Gothel the one behind the disappearance and finally, the wee wumen herself, Rapunzel. In turn we get each of these characters telling the tale until Rapunzel manages to escape, return and make all well. With a skip, a song and a beat of the rhythm, the world is back where it aw belangs: efter aw it is Christmas, intit?
This was a great distraction from what is going on in the world and is helped by a few of the major things theatrical success requires, in order to be achieved. The script is good, the characters are well drawn, the songs are tremendous and the performances enhance the whole.
What is missing is an audience.
To get the types of cartoonesque characters not just across the footlights but beyond the screen is a tremendously hard thing to achieve. Here, helped by a great script by Johnny McKnight, this is a fantastic example of why some performances are for the stage and some struggle to get the interaction they crave.
New spins on old tales, is hardly new nor revolutionary and McKnight, the writer, pulls out many of the panto tropes we expect. A villain to boo is developed, a mysterious magical person with mysterious magical powers is delivered, someone a wee bitty wandered and perhaps no quite aw there is provided and the man in a frock bookends it all. They are given some lovely lines and that McKnight as a master or a mistress of the genre is obvious.
Taking what would work beautifully in front of a packed crowd on a wet December Saturday night as well as on a schools’ matinee on a Tuesday is part of the package. People need to give it their all. Every one of our performers does that. They do not drop the pantomime ball.
The direction is apt, given that this is a form that needs life in front of it. The direction manages to portray the story without losing all of the intimacy and the naïveté of the storyline. The backdrop of being in Stirling castle helped a great deal.
What caught my attention most of all was the quality of the songs. With a hint of the contemporary though sparking into being original, these were simply memorable and tremendous. Each character had their own piece to deliver and did so with great skill.
What was missing, for me, was that interaction between the characters and the set pieces to drive the performance on.
Much though I enjoyed McKnight’s script and understood the restrictions imposed upon his direction, I found Paige Ootabook (name of the year for me) too rough and lacking the softness which live performances would give her. There is little doubt that McKnight is a fantastic performer, as well as a tremendous writer, and whilst I am not pantomime’s biggest fan, I would have little trouble in claiming that we have a worthy inheritor of the mantle of people like Baxter, Fulton and Kelly. But this medium forced his performing hand into trying too hard. Playing a character who appeared regularly throughout the performance and took us through the story, this made it difficult to ignore.
I also wanted to watch more of the action than hear about it. It lost that slapstick element that would have visually clued us into the narrative. It really needed that.
But what it made me crave – was live theatre.
A panto style show did!
That is surely no bad thing.
I would strongly urge our National Theatre to commission this once more for 2021, to bring it to the live venues and show us how treasured this artform should be. I would be there to buy a ticket to see how it works in a better environment – oh yes I would… Though I might regret that…