Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:51

Men in tights meet babes in pantos

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Kate Normington played the blarney talking fairy Sylviana Kate Normington played the blarney talking fairy Sylviana Picture by Mariola Biela

The history of the panto goes back to the Middle Ages, building on Roman theatre and the traditions of Italy's "Commedia dell' Arte", and combining it with European stage traditions as well as Mummers Plays and British Music hall slapstick to produce a own unique form of entertainment that epitomises the pre-Christmas period. It's all about audience participation, rude jokes, stock characters and good versus evil... and never fails to captivate the inner five year old in us all.

The annual panto has been part of the Joburg Christmas landscape almost as long as I have been in journalism - thereby hangs a tale! - and never fails to produce chuckles and guffaws. This year's production showcases Janice Honeyman's brand new pantomime adventure, "Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood".

Janice and producer Bernard Jay obviously take a few liberties with the original Robin Hood tale to make it panto-worthy, but for the purists among us all the original characters remain. 

One character who was never in the fairy tale but who makes the panto come alive this year is green-clad, blarney talkin' Silly Sylviana, the Spirit of the Forest, played by the consummately professional Kate Normington. You almost expect her to pop out a "Begorrah" or two while being whisked through the air on a wire.

With a slightly Mary Poppins-like quality, the sensible Sylviana in her funky green Irish takkies has everyone's best interests at heart - and never ever  veers off into mawkish Disney territory, for which I am eternally grateful. 

Desmond Dube plays a suitably jolly Friar Tuck in his sixth panto performance, with a tonsure that moves surreptitiously up and down on his hairline every time he creases up in laughter. A jollier Friar Tuck you cannot find.

The panto baddie is always a crucial role, and Graham Hopkins nails the role of Norman the Nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, throwing in a Donald Trump impersonation in swaggy boots for good measure. His unrequited love interest is Maid Marion, played by Carmen Pretorius, who is one of the "babes" in the wood, showing off a willowy figure in black velvet tights. This Maid Marion obviously spends a lot of time at the gym - no wonder Norman wants to do the nasty with her, but she of course is in love with Robin Hood himself.

Equally as nasty as nasty Norman is Dame Emmarentia the Ugly, superbly depicted by LJ Urbani (no relation to Craig, sadly) with a Julie Walters type accent. Ee bai gom, luv! She is nasty step-ma to panto tots Tokkle (Dale Scheepers) and Tina (Kyra Green), who veer off Robin Hood territory into a Hansel and Gretel scenario when they find themselves at the "witch's candy cottage in the forest" and are enticed in by their stepma in heavy disguise who then traps them, with a mind to eliminating the little brats.

It's quite a convoluted plot but even if your brain is too fried at this time of the year to take it all in, there is always reference to the ever elusive Saxonwold Shebeen, one of the only laughs that South Africans had in 2016, besides the pantomime. It's all jolly good fun, with the requisite four-wheel drive on stage, sweeties thrown into the front rows, dance routines and lots and lots of men in tights.

Robin Hood (Izak Davel) introduces his mighty tighties without a shade of irony, although, this being the theatre world, there are twitters a-plenty at their slightly camp antics.
 
This year the audience participation does not extend to the singalong, and is replaced by an hilarious and tightly choreographed rendition of "On the 12th Day of Christmas..." by mighty tighties Will Scarlet (Bongi Mthombeni), Lenny Loser (Clive Gilson) and Alan a-Dale (Jaco van Rensburg).  

Will not spoil this part of the performance but it is not to be missed!

Opening night is for the sticky-fingered as the audience, both great and small, are showered with sweeties and delicious choccies after the performance. 

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