(This article appeared in The EastAfrican 12-18 2011)
“The ten thousand million delights of a pantomime…come streaming upon us now,” wrote Charles Dickens when he edited the memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, one of the most important actors of pantomime.
It was so when the well-known and well-loved tale of Rumpelstiltskin by the German brothers Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859), like many of their collected fairy tales, was brought to new life in the Braeburn Theatre’s annual pantomime that closed on December 4th.
The pantomime (not to be mistaken for mime,) is a British tradition often performed around Christmas, which borrows heavily from the 16th Century Italian travelling comedy theatre commedia dell’arte.
This year’s pantomime, written and directed by Allen Corbet, had all the vital ingredients of a great pantomime, most notably the audience participation- one of the hallmarks of the pantomime tradition- which was far more animated than last year’s.
The indispensible characters of a pantomime are the villain, in this case, King Kali of Lavington (Simon Ammora) who, borrowing from the traditions and superstition of the Christian Mystery Plays in the Middle Ages, enters from stage left and upon his entry, is booed and hissed at by the audience. Ammora played a thrilling villain, calling the audience names, provoking more boos and jeers.
King Kali wishes to marry Jacaranda (Sharon Too) but she is in love with the King’s son, Prince Kijana (Rotem Yaniv-Cohem). The role of the principal girl, in this case Jacaranda, is often played by the most beautiful girl in the cast- the one who embodies beauty and innocence and Too was a good choice for this role.
The principal boy one the other hand, is traditionally played by a beautiful girl, dressed like a boy in a manner that emphasises her feminine beauty. She’s does not tie up her hair and wears tights and other tight clothing that show off her feminine curves.
If you can imagine life in Victorian times when women were literally covered from head to toe, then you can understand how sensational this role was. Despite the strict dress code of the time, on stage, women were allowed to show their shapely legs in breeches, as long as they were playing a man’s role. This is why the role of the ‘principal boy’ was also known as the ‘breeches role’ which gave the men of the time the same thrills that a glamour magazine gives those of today, what with the girl in question drawing attention to her legs by giving them occasional slap on the side. Yaniv-Cohem as Prince Kijana and the Lord Chamberlain (Sasha Percy-Lancaster) did a lift and slap of the leg every time they were about to execute their ‘cunning plan’.
The pantomime dame was Dame Donuts, a role played by a man dressed as a woman, in this case, Terry Childs. Dame Donuts is Jacaranda’s mother and she is also in love with Jacaranda but ends up being tricked into marrying Mpishi (Lizzie Jago). Jago, in her role as Mpishi engages the audience especially the children, to give the expected calls of “it’s behind you!” (when the characters in the haunted forest are looking for the ghosts), booing and hissing at the villain and saying ‘aw’ to the villain’s victims.
The story is often introduced by the good fairy who enters from stage right (the good side) but this time instead of the fairy there was the goblin Rumplestiltskin (Jenny Childs) who nonetheless wore small fairy wings for good measure.
Corbet also threw in another ingredient of pantomime- double-entendre, which is mild sexual inuendo intended for parents (although I feel certain that this did not fly over the heads of today’s children) with the reference to Dame Donut’s doughnuts (bosom), which she sells in Valley Arcade.
The energetic cast and the lively chorus made it all a delightful experience for the children and the adults too.
© Anne Manyara 2011