CUADC/Footlights Pantomime: Rumpelstiltskin

Wed 23rd November – Sat 3rd December 2016

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When the lights dim in the ADC theatre for this year’s CUADC/Footlights Pantomime, friends, family, onlookers are left to wonder what could possibly invigorate a time-honoured stage classic in one of the most anticipated productions of the year. ‘Rumplestiltskin’ truly warrants ALL acclaim, for astute directing, witty script, impressive music and stagecraft, and for a plethora of forceful individual and ensemble performances, combining to create a show of energetic drive and exuberant vitality.

Travelling to the quaint, relatable alpine village of Alpenburg where life seems to revolve around industrious wood-chopping and the copious ingestion of frothy brew, we find Frida, our earnest heroine, torn between paternal devotion and her affections for the well-meaning yet bumbling Johannes, son of the mad sovereign King Bruno. The awkwardness of her relationship with the king’s son leads her to seek the services of the forest potion-mixer, a decision with significant, wide-ranging consequences.

The story is told with astoundingly brilliant humour, serving to inject the plot with painfully funny character developments and a truly visceral sense of engagement of the audience. The organic reactions which occurred between cast and audience were truly something of a different level, clearly showing the former’s incredible sixth sense for timing. Oliver Vibrans’ jaunty musical score was brought to radiant life under the baton of Leo Popplewell, Jack Swanborough’s ambitious technical direction resulted in impressively complex choreography and brilliant visual spectacle. Set Designer Lydia Clark and Head Carpenter Toby Molyneux’s creative partnership resulted in some spectacularly gargantuan set pieces and scenery, and Lighting Designer Sam Payne’s work deserves special mention in adroitly ‘illuminating’ the moods of the respective characters, as well as seeking to involve the audience through well-planned management of hall brightness. Only minute overall criticisms seem in order, with some lapses in concentration that appeared in the choreography toward the beginning of the work, no doubt merely representing understandable opening-night jitters, whilst on a more serious note, the heavy-handed inclusion of a familiar courier service in the machinations of the plot became wearisome with repeated exposure. However, the brilliant writing always shone through, and with, impressively, the inclusion of (only!) one or two Brexit and Trump references.

It is in the power of the individual character portrayals that this drama truly shines. Eve Delaney is lovely as the courageous Frieda, Henry Wilkinson’s King Bruno shines as a hilariously conniving monarch, Robin Franklin’s brash, clueless Otto continuously commands us to laughter, and Zak Ghazi-Torbati threatens to at times steal the show with his side-splitting portrayal of the (rather strangely attractive) amazon lumberjack Connie Ferous. And yet, amongst this array of dramatic talent, William Ashford’s tour-de-force performance in the role of the title character still manages to stand out. His Rumplestiltskin is portrayed with nuance, verve and emotional investiture such as to redefine our common assumptions of the character as selfish, manipulative and arguably villainous, and re-interpret him as one troubled yet ultimately noble-hearted. Ashford’s impressive vocal prowess is very much on display, and the inventiveness in the use of pyrotechnics and stage props make his appearances all the more impressive.

CUADC/Footlight’s ‘Rumplestiltskin’ is an extremely funny and dramatically exciting take on a traditional folklore classic. This is a Cambridge-style pantomime. However, the amount of investment from the entire cast and crew definitely elevates it past your typical professional pantomime, and the fantastic performances, direction and writing make this truly one of the must-see events of the local cultural calendar, and we would highly recommend it to anyone seeking an engrossing and hilarious theatrical diversion that presents some of the finest in Cambridge's world of dramatic talent.

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