BWW REVIEW: New Australian Pantomime, BABES IN THE WOODS, AUSTRALIAN PURITY DEFIL'D, Captures The Spirit Of Australia Whilst Reviving The Old World Traditions
Thursday 15th December 2016, 7:30pm, Old Fitz Theatre
Drawing on the slapstick comedy, bad acting and questionable singing of the English tradition of Pantomimes, BABES IN THE WOODS is an all Australian work purely for adults. This new work by Phil Rouse (Writer, Director, Producer) is highly entertaining and proves that the creative spirit is alive and well in Australian grass roots theatre as it seeks to amuse and challenge.
When collecting tickets, the audience is given the first indication that this will be an irreverent and interactive performance as the Box office recommends that patrons have spare change on hand to by 'bags of cabbage and beer tinnies'. Upon entering through the tinsel curtains it is clear that this is a blend of Australiana with hay bales and eskies and the connections to the English tradition of staging Pantomimes around Christmas with a nativity and Christmas decorations tucked into a corner. Musical Director/Composer Phillipe Klaus sits at the side of the stage on electric keyboard to provide music and mood to the performance.
Rouse has filled the 90 minute performance with all the elements of a traditional pantomime. An unattractive villain, a featherbrained sidekick, someone that trusts the villain, innocent children whose lives are at risk, a elegant voice of wisdom, cross dressing, and a hunky piece of eye candy that isn't particularly bright. To ensure that the audience play along illuminated signs hang above the stage as prompts for the audience to applaud, jeer, warn and rush the performers. Bags of cabbage to throw at the performers draw on old traditions of the theatre where actors were pelted with rotten vegetables and adds to the interactive nature and comedy as full bags were seen flying and some pitches from the back rows didn't quite make it to the stage, raining down on other patrons instead.
The plot draws on Australian references and current events, particularly of a political nature. The battling farmer Auntie Avericia (Annie Byron) is bitter and twisted because her brother gained success and wealth whilst she and daughter Phyllis (Gabriel Fancourt) suffer through drought with 'pet' emu Flapgherkin (Eliza Reilly). She longs for the ability to own investment properties so she can retire and live a life of luxury while Phyllis bemoans her lack of love life. Auntie Avericia is then lumped with caring for her brother's snotty children Ruby (Alex Malone) and Robbie (Ildiko Susany) upon his death but his will includes a clause that Auntie Avericia believes could be used to her advantage.
Annie Byron is deliciously evil as the murderous Auntie Avericia and Martelle Hunt (Set and costume design) expresses Auntie Avericia's growing confidence that her plot is working by variations in the frumpy farm wife's appearance. Gabriel Fancourt as Auntie Avericia's daughter Phyllis is fabulously camp, commencing in a demure frilly lace confection that hides her 'true' self. Sean Hawkins is the eye candy of the night as Phyllis' love interest, the not too bright, Farmer Jack and he plays up the dimwitted vain character well. As children Ruby and Robbie, Alex Malone and Ildiko Susany capture the obnoxiousness of the white privilege that is greatly discussed in current affairs. As Auntie Avericia's simpering sidekick, Flapgherkin, Eliza Reilly is hilarious as the Emu that often hears voices. Reilly also provides the glamour of the night as the Angel of White Privilege, reinforcing Ruby and Robbie's discussion of the issue.
BABES IN THE WOODS is a hilarious pantomime that incorporates a political commentary where few things are off limits. It is also designed well for its audience, knowing the regular crowd at the Old Fitz are regular theatre goers so other theatrical references are also thrown in too. A fun filled night that has the audience roaring with laughter at the content and the execution plus a rare chance in live theatre for the audience to really get involved and express how they feel about a performance as it progresses.
Old Fitz Theatre
13th December 2016- 21st January 2017