by Mike Kenny.
Lawrence Batley Theatre Queen’s Square Queen Street HD1 2SP To 29 December 2013.
Runs 1hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 December.
Quietly elegant picture of childhood.
As well as being prolific, Mike Kenny is a skilful playwright for young people who shares with Caryl Churchill an ability to make the form of each piece fit the subject he’s writing about. It’s a quality that energises each of his plays, which also have a deep understanding of what matters to young audience members and how they respond to words and action.
Along with the clarity of his writing, and the pacing of its action, this makes his work richly satisfying, though it can challenge any easy expectation of stock stories or pantomime at Christmas.
For Kenny’s Rapunzel, Tutti Frutti theatre has converted the end-stage Lawrence Batley into the Round. Catherine Chapman’s set simply suggests Rapunzel’s tower by a slightly raised central platform with a large expanse of stage-floor all around. Distance and isolation are apparent, the order within the tower contrasted by the occasional outbursts as local youths pass by shouting out that Rapunzel’s Nan is a witch.
As with space, so with time. Rapunzel grows from baby to age 12, and each year is separated by a brief choric song, mixing tick-tocks with an announcement of each birthday. It’s a steady tune, the birthday stated only after a pause for the number of beats in Rapunzel’s new age.
This measured device gives a sense of time passing and marks-out Rapunzel’s development, her awareness of herself, of the world beyond and other people, as she grows curious about the horizon, what lies beyond, and the people she observes. All the time Nan is building the tower protectively around her. And Rapunzel’s hair is growing longer, both a burden and a means of contact with society.
The spareness of Kenny’s script and his play’s formal structure demand concentration and reward it with a deep sense of the experience of growing from first steps to the boundary of childhood, the mind, and the need for independence, developing – instinctively within Rapunzel, needing to be acknowledged by her Nan.
It’s something finely caught in all the performances, including Louise Goodwin’s musical participation, in Wendy Harris’s controlled, austerely elegant and clear production.
Rapunzel: Gayle Newbolt.
Nan: Alicia McKenzie.
Rafi: Isaac Stanmore.
Musician: Louise Goodwin.
Director: Wendy Harris.
Designer: Catherin Chapman.
Lighting: Sara L Burns.
Composer/Musical Director: Chris Mellor.
Movement: T C Howard.