Date 15th February 2024
Society The Phoenix Players
Venue Trinity Theatre, Southsea
Type of Production Musical
Director Sophie Nickerson
Vocal Coach Joanna Bennington
Choreographers JJ Hasker, Rose Stubbington, Sophie Rowsell & Lucy Saunders


Author: Mark Donalds

Thanks to Disney, Rapunzel is no longer one of the lesser-known fairy tales. It tells of a princess, stolen at birth by the evil witch Gothel and imprisoned in a tower for eighteen years until a handsome young prince climbs up her beautiful, long blonde hair to rescue her.

We were greeted by a castle set with a convincing tower stage right, from which Rapunzel could lower her long hair. Other sets and props used throughout the show were equally well made and beautifully painted – a great credit to the set design and construction team (Stine Impey, Sass Adams and helpers), and they made best use of the limited stage and apron areas. Lighting and sound too were top-notch (Andrew and Paul Impey) with some good atmosphere and effects created. Costumes (Jo Webb) were varied and colourful with the Dame getting some really magnificent outfits and outrageous headgear, though it seemed a little unfair that the King of Evergreen had very minimal attire!

This was Sophie Nickerson’s debut with Phoenix as a director, and she has picked a good cast who, with varying degrees of experience, brought us a really boisterous panto with everyone giving their all. Sophie also stood in for a member of the ensemble who was unwell and carried it off with aplomb despite having a script in her hand!

Alex Eels shone as a very sparky and stylish Rapunzel with a powerful singing voice and good stage presence. She was well paired with Sonia Hill as Rudi, the young prince, another natural singer who interacted nicely with the audience. I liked the way that the script kept them bickering with each other and they didn’t fall in love until the very end – a refreshing change from the usual “love at first sight” storylines.

Steve Penfold was spot-on as Dame Hilda, another experienced actor who can handle a live audience with ease and his “I’m going, I’m going” interactions were a delight. Her son Max, a keen boy scout, was very ably played by Josh Woolmer – a relatively new face to Phoenix Players, who stood up to the Dame with great confidence and showed a lot of promise for the future. You must have a baddie in panto, and Tyrone Baptiste filled that role admirably as Gothel the kidnapping witch. He insulted the audience liberally and seemed to enjoy every boo that they gave back! His sidekick was Waylon the Weasel, played with great character and humour by Didi Brown. Rose Stubbington and Kevin Cordell made a very stately King and Queen of Evergreen and their identical twins the King and Queen of England on the Wold. Great fun was had from the dilemma of both pairs having to be on stage at the same time!

The full colour programme was attractive, well laid out and a delight to read, with lots of information about the cast and creatives plus some rehearsal pictures. I have entered it into the 2024 competition for you.

Phoenix Players is an all-embracing company, deeply rooted in the local community and, long before Rapunzel hit the stage, they were taking the show out to the people with their “Story Time with Rapunzel” sessions at local libraries – a really innovative way of spreading the word about the show. This is a friendly and welcoming group striving to put on innovative and good quality theatre for the local community and, judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the audience around me, making a great success of it!