What is Pantomime?

by Christine Ray

MURWILLUMBAH THEATRE Company is staging Ali Baba, a light-hearted pantomime written by Ben Crocker, over three weekends at the Murwillumbah Civic Centre, closing with a 2pm matinee on Sunday October 30.

Ali Baba is based on a traditional, well-known children’s story set in Baghdad. It combines messages on the shallowness of greed and the trials of love.

Pantomimes are fast-moving stories based on silly and magical plots, suspense, comedy and laughter, song and dance, happily ever after romance, and audience participation. The script, characters, music, set and costumes are designed to engage both children and adults as a visit to a pantomime is traditionally a family outing where different generations come out together. The humour is double layered to appeal to this wide audience.

Our cast includes local children as actors, as well as extreme and bizarre characters like our band of thieves, Mum Baba and her friends. Our principal boy, Ali, is a straightforward, brave action figure. His love interest, Safiya, is a ‘good’ character – she not only looks lovely but is intelligent and has a mind of her own.

Pantomimes invite the audience to suspend reality when watching the plot action and characters. In pantomimes there is a ‘dame’ played by a man dressed as a woman. We all know she is really a man but we accept her character as a woman. She is a confident, older, unmarried woman on the lookout for a husband and usually gets one in the end. She can talk directly to the audience, be their friend, greet individuals and groups, encourage audience participation and make bad jokes and puns like a naughty school child.

The audience is also an essential pantomime ‘character’ –  villains need to be hissed and booed and if a character invites a reaction a pantomime audience is expected to have fun in replying.

Ali Baba also includes an animal played by actors in costume. The costume is not comfortable – hot and airless with restricted vision and movement. In this two-man skin the front actor has to steer, hold up the heavy head and manipulate the mouth while peering through a small window of gauze. The back legs actor has to trust the front to lead him in the right direction while the animal dances and cavorts without falling off the stage.
Combine these features with a bunch of funny noises and special effects, cream pies, exotic and glittering sets and armloads of brightly coloured or bizarre costumes and you have the pantomime Ali Baba by Ben Crocker (2012). Come along and witness this acclaimed spectacle for yourselves.

As well as two sold out matinees for school groups, remaining performances will take place on Saturday October 22 at 5.30pm, Sunday October 23 at 2.00pm, Saturday October 29 at 7.30pm, Sunday October 30 at 2.00pm.