But what, you may ask, do you mean by pantomime? Is it a play without words or a vaudevillian musical comedy for kids? Well, it depends on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you hail from. To an American like me, pantomime means the former with shades of Charlie Chaplin or Marcel Marceau; to someone from the United Kingdom and its former Commonwealth, it means a musical comedy, primarily for kids, with slapstick, audience participation, cross-dressing actors and more.
The word itself gives us no clue since it only means ‘imitating everything’. But the original pantomimes, dating back to Roman times, incorporated one dancer playing all the roles, using masks, stock poses, and complicated hand gestures to tell a story accompanied by music and a singing chorus. So it was a bit of both ideas.
The form the panto now takes has its roots in 16th century Commedia dell’ Arte with its stock characters, slapstick comedy, and struggling lovers resisted by the powers that be. Having originally employed classical Greek and Roman stories, in the early 1800s pantos began to take fairy tales and other popular children’s stories as their basis, stories such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Puss in Boots, Dick Whittington and more.
To tell you how our present project came to pass, in late August of this year as we emerged from strict lockdown here in Phuket, Theatrix successfully performed a cowboy murder mystery at Pepper’s in Laguna. At the end of the evening I was approached by Chantal Fernandes who volunteers with The Good Shepherd Foundation. She asked me if Theatrix might be open to performing a panto as a fundraiser for Good Shepherd. Skeptical at first, thinking it was just too big an undertaking right now, I continued to discuss the possibility with Chantal Fernandes until I became convinced we could do this thing!
So, now Theatrix is hard at work on an English panto called ‘Aladdin: A Pantomime in the Traditional Style’ to be performed in mid-December, and we’re having a great time doing it.
We got a good response to our call for auditions and assembled a cast of characters with actors from 14 to 70 and are now well on our way to performing our first (and hopefully not our last) panto.
When asked what we (Theatrix) are working on right now, if the person is British, I say, ‘A panto,’ and their faces light up. To anyone else, I have now taken to saying, ‘An interactive musical comedy for kids based on the story of Aladdin’ to save time trying to explain to the uninitiated what an English pantomime is and is not.
So what can you expect when you come to see our current performance? You are coming, aren’t you, and bringing your kids and the neighbourhood kids? Well, when you do, you’ll see:
- Aladdin, the principal character, played by a young lady, while her mother, Widow Twanky, is played by an older male actor.
- A blatantly evil baddie for the kids to boo every time he comes onstage.
- Lots of audience participation, such as asking the audience to warn the actors when the villain enters, arguing with the audience or each other, ‘Oh, yes, he does.’ ‘Oh, no, he doesn’t’ and so forth.
- Lots of double entrendre with a fair few adult jokes to keep the parents happy.
- Lots of slapstick and broad comedy to keep the kids and the young at heart happy.
- Lots of music and song with some dance.
- A happy though ridiculous ending.
The panto is a great deal of fun both to perform and to watch, a chance to let the little kid in yourself come out and play without restraint.
Tony Edwards is directing the show, and I have the pleasure of getting to play the Dame character, in this case, Widow Twanky, Aladdin’s mother. Besides Aladdin and Twanky, this play has two genies; Aladdin’s love interest, Princess Jasmine; Aladdin’s bumbling, gregarious brother, Wishee Washee; a formidable Empress, Jasmine’s mother; a bungling cop; the baddie, Abanazar; and more. The cast includes actors from the USA, Canada, Wales, France, Thailand, Myanmar, the Netherlands, India, and Venezuela with more nationalities to be included in the cast of the townspeople and chorus, so it’s truly an international affair. Closer to the time, we will be announcing the exact date and venue of the performance, so stay tuned to Theatrix Group on Facebook and the Phuket News for updates. Don’t miss it!
Joel Adams is building a vibrant theatre community right here in Phuket. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 093 6490066. Facebook: Theatrix Group