Monday, 06 April 2020

Half-term family show is letting its hair down

Half-term family show is letting its hair down

THE team behind some of the Kenton Theatre’s most uproarious Christmas pantomimes are returning to Henley with a hair-raising new show this February half-term.

Led by writer-director James Tobias, Immersion Theatre are bringing an all-new touring production of Rapunzel to town.

The show is playing at the New Street theatre on Monday (February 17) and Tuesday (February 18) with matinée performances at 1.30pm on both days plus an early evening show at 5pm on Monday.

A Kenton spokesman said: “Let your hair down and get tangled in a brand-new musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale.

“Immersion Theatre proudly presents a witty, tongue-in-cheek retelling of the family favourite complete with a laugh-out-loud script, a host of catchy songs, heaps of audience interaction and an exciting array of magical characters including a wickedly boo-able witch, a clumsy prince and a feisty princess with the longest hair you’re ever likely to come across.

“With magic and mayhem throughout and a chance to meet the characters after the show, this is one hair-raising adventure the family won’t want to miss.”

James, who was last seen on the Kenton stage playing Timmy the Tom Cat in Dick Whittington, said: “Anyone who likes panto should come and see Rapunzel because it’s aimed at the exact same audience.

“It’s a very ‘pantomimic’ retelling of the story. There are the odd little nods to Tangled because it’s what the little ones now associate with that fairy tale, which I think is brilliant. But to be clear, it’s not the Disney version — it’s essentially a pantomime adaptation of Rapunzel with nods to Tangled.”

The production has a cast of six, but this time around James will not be among them.

“No, I don’t act any more,” he says. “I stick solely to writing and directing. So in the way that I wrote and directed Dick Whittington in 2018 and Robin Hood the year before that, the only difference was that I acted as well. But these days I’m really just writing and directing so that I can fully focus my attention on it.”

When it comes to Rapunzel, audiences can be assured that there will be plenty happening on stage.

“We’ve got six performers in the cast and they multi-role,” says James. “Two of them multi-role in particular. So we’ve got Chester the Jester, who is very much the audience participation character.

“He’s best friends with the prince and he’s going to be the audience’s best friend without a doubt — he’s the one who’s in charge of making those groanworthy jokes that the adults groan at and the kids find hilarious. And he shoots into the audience with water guns.

“We’ve got the king and the queen, and we’ve got a set of ruffians in a slightly rough tavern — which is one of our nods to Tangled. So there’s heaps of characters.”

What else can audiences expect from this version of the story?

“It’s a very adventure-heavy adaptation,” says James. “It’s all about Rapunzel, of course, who’s desperate to visit the outside world but she’s being kept in the tower by Gothel, who is the king’s evil sister.

“Unbeknownst to him, She’s the one who actually kidnapped Rapunzel all those years ago and is keeping her locked in this tower.

“The prince is not your traditional stereotypical soppy prince — he’s actually much more of a ‘go get them’ sort of chap, with his best friend Chester.

“Off seeking adventure they stumble across Rapunzel. And when they agree to take her to see a ceremony that she’s been desperate to see all her life, they encounter a group of ruffians.

“Gothel’s hot on their trail trying to find Rapunzel again because there’s magical properties within her hair that Gothel needs, because they are the key to her eternal youth.

“So there’s magic, there’s adventure, there’s comedy, there’s audience participation — I really don’t see who the show wouldn’t appeal to, you know?”

Rapunzel is touring the UK until the middle of April, but the Kenton is only the second venue the show is playing at.

Nods to Tangled aside, James is keen to ensure that everything the audience sees on stage is fresh and original.

“The thing for us is that we never just want to recycle our work,” he says. “So we always write the scripts in-house. It’s all brand-new original music that we’ve written. And the same goes for the sets and the costumes. We never hire, we always bring a designer on board. So everything from the sets to the costume to the props to everything is completely unique to this production.”

For James, one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing and directing is that every show is different — and that includes the people he gets to work with.

“I have to say, this year, I’m particularly excited because we’ve done very well in terms of who we’ve got in the cast.

“And as well with our creative team — we’ve got people who have shows in the West End.

“We’re very lucky with the calibre of people that we’ve got working on this show and I really do think it’s going to be reflected in the product that we bring to the Kenton — I don’t think Henley’s going to quite expect what they get.”

While James has worked with some of the cast of Rapunzel on previous Immersion Theatre productions, he doesn’t think any of them have played at the Kenton before.

“They’ve worked with us on our other pantos,” he says, “but not necessarily at the Kenton. So I think this will be their first time, which is quite exciting.”

Among the stars of the show is Charlotte Fishwick, who plays Rapunzel herself.

“This will be the third time we’ve worked with Charlotte,” says James. “She played Wendy for us in our panto version of Peter Pan at the Stafford Gatehouse this Christmas just gone.

“And last summer she was in our open-air summer tour of Alice in Wonderland, playing the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat.

“Honestly, this girl is just fantastic — I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do. She’s a phenomenal character actress with amazing comedy timing, but she can also play the romantic aspects of the character like nothing else. Her voice is sensational. Genuinely, we’re so lucky to have her.”

Gothel is played by Kluane Saunders, with Luke Haywood as Prince Arthur and Michael Lapham as Chester the Jester. Completing the ensemble are Harry Sykes and Victoria-Louise Currie, both of whom play multiple roles.

James’s own relationship with the Kenton stretches back to Christmas 2012 when, at the start of his career, he and his partner Rochelle Parry played Buttons and Cinderella in the theatre’s first professional pantomime, Cinderella.

So well did the pair go down with audiences that they were invited back to star as Aladdin/Genie in Aladdin (2013), and Captain Hook/Peter Pan in Peter Pan (2014), before founding Immersion Theatre and returning to the New Street venue with Robin Hood in 2017 and Dick Whittington in 2018.

• Tickets for Rapunzel are £12.50 for adults and £10.50 for children. To book, call (01491) 575698 or visit

The show has a running time of 110 minutes, including a 20-minute interval.

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