Review: Rumpelstiltskin

Gemma Sheehan 27 November 2016

I arrived at this year's offering from the Footlights with trepidation and curiosity, unsure what to expect from the fusion of the rather formulaic pantomime and the zanier work of Cambridge's comedy institution. I needn't have worried: Rumpelstiltskin was an uproarious yuletide extravaganza that would coax a smile from even the most cynical of Scrooges.

The show opens with a backstory – well-executed through silhouettes – introducing Alpenberg, a village cursed to lovelessness with inhabitants most likely to be found in the local tavern. Here we meet Frieda, whose dreams of love and a life beyond barkeeping at her father's tavern lead her to solicit the magical help of Rumpelstiltskin. Eve Delaney played Frieda well, undercutting the character's naïve damsel in distress role with several lines delivered with a comically strategic deadpan. Joe Sefton is suitably sappy as her smitten suitor Johannes and Henry Wilkinson as his father King Bruno plays the stock role of the greedy, despotic King, who can't even remember his own son's name, with all the hilariously overblown pomp it merits. The cast – even those who mainly functioned as recurring gags – had impeccable comic timing and an energy to make a punchline out of even the (admittedly rare) fluffed lines. As the play's purported villain, William Ashford was surprisingly endearing.  Ashford struck the perfect balance between classic panto villain, eliciting many spontaneous audience boos, and attention-seeking outcast, making Rumpelstiltskin seem more misunderstood than malevolent.

Amongst these strong performances, Zak Ghazi-Torbati as the dame Connie Ferous was a particular highlight. His performance milked the ribaldry of the character, but never to the extent of gratuity. The innuendo was offset by much of the show's other comedy, which worked by acknowledging the ludicrous premises of pantomimes. Some of the strongest gags were hinged on self-consciously subverting the expectations the audience had of implausible plots and stock characters, such as Frieda's father Otto, whose exaggerated obliviousness was brilliantly captured by Robbin Franklin. The few topical, political jokes scattered throughout the show raised some of the louder laughs, as did the running gags involving both cast members and the audience.

Whilst the cast naturally deserve to be lauded, credit must be given the numerous others who were not on stage, but without whom the production would lack its lustre.  Composer Oliver Vibrans' score, ranging from the ceremonial welcome to Alpenberg to the whimsical "Ich Liebe Dich", was perfect catchy panto fare and showcased the vocal talents of the cast. The quality of good costume, lighting and staging are often only noticeable by their absence, but in this show each contributed to making the  performance visually dazzling. Jack Swanborough's ambitious set, featuring a revolving stage and a fully functioning maypole, was most obvious, but the attention to detail throughout the design and staging of the show – from costumes to explosions – was impressive.  Though the set changes occasionally hindered the flow of the action, this in a minor gripe about an otherwise broadly entertaining production.

Panto tickets may be practically gone, but if you do get the chance, head down to the ADC for some belated Bridgemas cheer!