We’ve come to expect pantos to be named after characters from classic children’s tales. However, this season’s MADC panto, written and directed by the ubiquitous Malcolm Galea, is based on the character of Mary Poppins, made popular by the eponymous film that has become a classic in itself.
Mary Poppins has all the ingredients of a classic panto character; a nanny who can sing, make magic and even fly. Hats off to Galea for coming up with the idea that he could weave his script for this year’s panto around such a winsome character, borrowing some of the film’s narrative while sticking faithfully to the classic panto recipe.
He puts a clever twist to the character’s name (possibly to avoid any copyright issues) by giving her a yuletide flavour and has created yet another entertaining script after last year’s very successful Little Red Riding Hood and You Know Who, in which he also played the dame.
The dame this time round is played by none other than the mother of all dames, Alan Montanaro. It’s fair to say that his dames are variations on a theme, but that is exactly what the public wants and loves and he does it ever so well.
Montanaro’s skill is particularly evident when he veers away from the script and plays the moment. Few actors on the local stage can match him for his improvisation skills and his effortless connection with the audience.
Panto is not, however, all about the dame and Galea’s script ensures that all the other characters are more than mere vehicles for Montanaro’s dame. He has been able to cast a very talented group of actors who could act, sing, dance and carry a three-hour show effortlessly.
The show skilfully managed the tricky balancing act of being something for everybody
It’s difficult to single out any of the cast but I was particularly impressed with Joseph Zammit’s Bertu, who delivered a great rendition of The Foundations’ Build Me Up Buttercup and almost threatened to edge out Montanaro’s dame as the audience’s favourite. I foresee Zammit as a future contender to Montanaro’s crown!
The chorus members provided a solid basis to the show, even though I found the male members somewhat stiff in their dance moves, compared to their female counterparts.
2014 was replete with local news stories that lent themselves as ideal panto fodder and Galea lost no time milking them to the max, taking a swipe at various local personalities who made headlines this year, particularly Manuel Mallia and Paul Sheehan. The double entendre was also clever without being unnecessarily vulgar and the show skilfully managed the tricky balancing act of being something for everybody.
Although the Malta Fairs and Conferences Centre does not have the warmth and sense of occasion that the Manoel Theatre possesses, the production capitalised on the strengths of the venue thanks to Claudio Apap’s functional set design.
The large video projections on either side of the stage allowed the audience to be able to catch the slightest expression regardless of where they were seated and the scale of the staging was just right to be able to make, what is in essence a large impersonal hangar, feel as intimate as a movie theatre. My four-year-old daughter was particularly impressed with the effective use of black light puppetry.
The music was once again in the capable hands of Paul Abela and the band was as tight as the dame’s corsets. The singing was uniformly very good both by the main characters and the chorus, although the choice of songs was, in the main, predictable. A prime candidate for most memorable panto song ever, however, must be Montanaro’s take on the famous Supercali song. The dazzling costumes were by Ernest Camilleri, who somehow manages to outdo himself each year.
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