Rapunzel © Bill Cooper
Rapunzel
© Bill Cooper
Fans of the movie Tangled be warned – BalletLORENT’s production of Rapunzel, which came to His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen last Friday, is a far cry from the chipper, optimistic Disney animation that much of its target audience might be more familiar with. Rather, despite being supposedly suitable for ages seven and over, librettist Carol Ann Duffy and director Liv Lorent do not hold back when describing the original tale’s grim subject matter. In fact, aside from one instance which glosses over Rapunzel’s pregnancy, the ballet remains true to the traditional story, and the combination of the poetic voiceover, Murray Gold’s emotive scoring and the beautiful silhouette and shadow play makes for a pleasingly creepy experience. That said, the ‘let down your hair’ scenes are distinctly eerier when the golden tresses have been substituted for tangled dreadlocks the colour of blood.

BalletLORENT’s dark adaptation of the fairytale focuses as much on Rapunzel’s original parents as it does on her life in the tower, creating a thrilling juxtaposition between the innocence of being a child and the primal fear of losing one. The idyllic dance sequence that opens the ballet is a festival of merrymaking. Children of all ages are led by a group of adult performers in a joyful maypole dance while other children – toddlers and infants as well as teens – play with ribbons, balloons, paper windmills and hula-hoops. It is a light-hearted occasion, but place a barren woman who longs for children amongst the festivities, as Duffy has done, and the audience is given a glimpse of the grief and isolation that Rapunzel’s mother might have felt before conceiving her daughter.

The Witch © Bill Cooper
The Witch
© Bill Cooper

The witch (Caroline Reece), of course, also longs for a child and before Rapunzel she fills that gap with two giant, gyrating lizard-dog creatures which would have utterly terrified me when I was ten. She is a frightening spectacle as she roller-skates around the stage, wielding two long whips with her pets in tow, and the scene where she snatches the baby Rapunzel from her pram despite the parents’ protests is harrowing to watch. Yet in this version, the witch’s subsequent treatment of Rapunzel – tying her on a leash, whipping her and imprisoning her in a tower – is all a fabrication by Rapunzel’s biological mother, presumably a coping mechanism to deal with her loss.

As the performance progresses we gradually see Rapunzel’s parents learning to come to terms with their daughter’s disappearance. In one of the rare moments of pure dance in the ballet, after the Prince has been blinded, the King and Queen join Rapunzel’s parents in a gorgeous couple dance, which starts off with shaky pointe work and wobbly legs, but develops into a stunning piece where the participants learn that they can cope and support each other if they rely on their significant other. I cannot emphasise enough how poignant this number was, and if there had been more focus on the dance throughout the rest of the ballet, it could have been amazing.

Rapunzel in her tower © Ian West
Rapunzel in her tower
© Ian West

As it was, however, a lot of the enjoyment seemed to hinge more on Duffy’s expressive script and the performers’ miming abilities than it did on dance. This was probably a wise decision for a production designed to appeal to children, who might get bored during long dance numbers, but it is worth noting that the divergence from dance was not due to a lack of ability on the dancers’ parts. The dancers were all remarkably strong – the amazing climbing frame set alone required high dexterity and endurance – and Natalie Trewinnard, who played Rapunzel, was particularly impressive. Her acrobatics in her tower were athletic and, despite her small frame, she lifted and supported her Prince (Gavin Coward) just as often as he did for her.

Rapunzel © Bill Cooper
Rapunzel
© Bill Cooper

Doctor Who composer Murray Gold’s haunting, humming motif which appeared throughout the ballet binds it all together beautifully. Culminating in a nice scene where the audience and Rapunzel’s parents see their real daughter safe and happy in the witch’s garden with her own children, there is a refreshing sense of closure and we are led to believe that the characters might indeed live Happily Ever After. It was an enjoyable evening for both adults and children.