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BWW REVIEW: Heaped To The Brim With Heart And Humor, The Absurdity Of Traditional Pantomime Is Given An Australian Makeover For A Grown Up Audience in THE BOOMKAK PANTO



BWW REVIEW: Heaped To The Brim With Heart And Humor, The Absurdity Of Traditional Pantomime Is Given An Australian Makeover For A Grown Up Audience in THE BOOMKAK PANTO

Saturday 27th November 2021, 7:30pm, Belvoir St Theatre

Drawing on the absurd live performance genre of pantomimes, Writer, Co-Director and performer Virginia Gay's latest work is the hilarious and heartwarming THE BOOMKAK PANTO. A pantomime within a play based on the principles of pantomime, there is sense and sentiment within the chaos and caricatures, making this a wonderful work for a world needing joy, hope and the healing power of laughter shared in the community of being present at live theatre.

Although pantomimes are a mainstay of Christmas theatre seasons in Britain, the children's entertainment is not as well known in Australia. Traditionally drawing on fairytales for their loose plot, they are somewhat formulaic in their inclusion of slapstick comedy, lame jokes, veiled inuendo designed to keep the adults amused while keeping the children blissfully ignorant, minor 'celebrities', reworkings of pop-songs, and most significantly, the need for audience participation to warn of villains and argue with the clownish standard characters like Widow Twankey. These standard 'requirements' form the basis of THE BOOMKAK PANTO in which the citizens of the small country town of Boomkak decide to save their town from a "Big Developer" (Rob Johnson) by raising money by staging a pantomime, even though only two of the residents have any idea of what a pantomime is.

While single mother and restaurant owner, Parnia (Deborah Galanos), a refugee migrant from the middle east, sets out to educate the town in everything pantomime as she takes on the role of director and 'fairy godmother', it is Alison (Virginia Gay) who gives the audience a rundown of the genre that triggers traumatic memories for the former stage manager in an impressively unhinged manic monologue. Parnia's 19-year-old daughter Yazmin (Mary Soudi) is naturally selected for the classic princess and, following Parnia's pushing, Yazmin's current boyfriend, the self-centered idiot Butch (Rob Johnson) is cast as the prince as Parnia refuses to acknowledge that the intelligent and caring trans Zoe (Zoe Terakes) could be the hero of the story she envisages for her daughter, both in fiction and 'reality'. Alison's husband, the entitled and socially unaware John (Toby Truslove), a television actor who is living well off royalties and guest appearances while he and his wife renovate an old farmstead with absurd refits fills the criteria of having a 'F-list celebrity' and a male playing the obligatory inexplicable older female lead. Zoe's father Darren (Billy McPherson), the Deputy Mayor and Indigenous Elder who leads the Local Land Council takes on the logistics and stage management roles while also endeavoring to assist John understand the intricacies of Pantomime, according to the cheat sheets Alison has received from her former colleagues. From a perch above stage left, Iranian musician Hamed Sadeghi overseas the whole operation and adds live music using middle eastern instruments, reinforcing the cultural diversity in Boomkak.

THE BOOMKAK PANTO is primarily a play about the creation of a pantomime, presented with pantomime elements but with more plot and more important messages. Gay has created a lovely homage to the classic country town which is further supported by Michael Hankin's scenic design, translated to the mural that spans the corner stage walls by painter Russell Carey, depicting rolling hills of evocative sepia and sienna, the main road through town, complete with the range of historic buildings and a memory of the town's former claim to fame, the signage for the Tomato sauce factory. This works in with the rest of Hankin's set design that evokes the image of the dilapidated paving slabs outside the community buildings while the reveal of the town hall tea-counter and the addition of furniture transports the work inside the scout hall or into Alison and John's renovated white on white home. Hankin's costuming clearly delineates the 'real' from the pantomime with all characters retaining a 'normal' appearance aside from the Big Developer who is the caricature of every cartoon business man that has tried to swindle good honest people out of their property. With a teaser of a gold clad cast opening the show, the switch back to off-the-rack street clothes makes the moments of high camp even better.

The music includes three original works by composer Eddie Perfect and a collection of reworkings of well-known pop songs. The inclusion of Sadeghi's middle eastern instruments over the pre-recorded backing tracks gives the songs a new sound that works well. Kellie-Anne Kimber's sound design did have some issues on the night reviewed though as lyrics and dialogue disappeared at times. Jazmine Rizk's lighting design added a delightful drama with dream sequences indicated by focused color washes and the villainous Big Developer's evil nature reinforced by a red glow. Elle Evangelista's choreography is classically camp and created to consider the needs of pantomime performers that may not move well, adding the awkwardness back in for these skilled performers and the chaotic obligatory 'ladder' scene that is foreshadowed multiple times is cleanly executed in a piece of perpetual motion.

Reinforcing the power of staying together to protect a community and also following your heart not expectations, this absurd work is delightful and easy to engage with, even for those that may at first seem hesitant to the idea of pantomime. Written for a contemporary Australian audience it puts real Australia on stage, representing a diversity without relegating minorities to punchlines that traditional pantomime often does, and instead celebrating the evolution of understanding different people. It is balanced enough to retain the idiotic while having enough wit and plot to keep the audience engaged. Presented for an adult audience that will often have a fair to good understanding of the theatre scene this work is intelligent with brilliant in-jokes, current political references and the requisite innuendo that doesn't need to be as veiled as it would be in a performance designed for children but is still presented with clever subtlety.

THE BOOMKAK PANTO is a refreshing piece of theatre that is a perfect celebration of the return to live theatre. Well worth getting hold of a ticket.

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