Rapunzel by BalletLORENT, Northern Stage until tonight
AS I was heading to this show, my three-year-old son said to me ‘watch out for the fairy dust.’ It was most perceptive, as choreographer Liv Lorent has a habit of sprinkling fairy dust on her magical creations.
This is her biggest to date, commissioned by Sadler’s Wells and New Writing North and co-produced with Northern Stage.
I dimly remember a spooky version of Rapunzel from childhood, but I am more familiar with Disney’s Tangled, a favourite of my children.
Neither would have prepared me for this dark and menacing vision of the folk story collected by the Grimm Brothers in the 19th Century (don’t be tempted to bring kids under the age of seven or perhaps eight). It begins wistfully with a nostalgic vision of idealized family life complete with maypole dancing, happy children and giant red balloons. But soon it enters the heart of the story, which is the agony of a woman who would sacrifice anything to have a child, only to have what is most precious taken away from her.
So most of the first half is the heart-wrenching ‘back story’ of Rapunzel’s parents, played with great passion by Debbi Purtill and Mariusz Raczynski. More striking is the witch, Caroline Reece, accompanied by scaly creatures crawling around like human lizards. The second half centres on the prince, who rides on his scooter to Rapunzel’s tower, only to lose his sight in a fall.
There are some set pieces: choreography demonstrating children’s joy and freedom while Rapunzel is in the background; and a moment conjuring a painting, such as Edgar Degas’ Combing the Hair, when the witch brushes her stolen daughter’s hair.
Support comes from lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth, costume designer Michele Clapton and set designer Phil Eddolls, which reminded me of storybook illustrations of Sarah Gibb. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy updated the tale for balletLORENT and, as much as I admire actor Lesley Sharp, did the production need the voice-over? The score by Murray Gold is passionate, and perhaps the agony would have been more powerful without stage directions.