Little Red Riding Hood... and you know who, Masquerade’s very enjoyable panto at the Manoel Theatre, is above all a triumph for Malcolm Galea.
He has not only written an inventive script for it but is also a hilarious kingpin with his dame, Auntie Patka, who keeps the fun going strongly throughout the piece. She brings up, again and again, political cracks that should have the politicians squirming.
She is a delightful host when interviewing the kids from the audience and, on the night I saw it, made his handling of an adult French member of the audience one of the brightest moments of the evening. He has also come up with an amusing variant for the sing-along traditionally brought in before the final curtain.
Auntie Patka is Red Riding Hood’s (Lisa Mifsud) eccentric, but fun-loving aunt, who lives in Viking village. The dame is in love with the comic villain of the panto, Jerry Hoffn – he is the other pillar of the production, sung strongly and played with comic-villainous vim by Joseph Zammit.
Jerry is an aspiring sorcerer who aims to supplant Red’s grandma as the powerful Sorceress (that fine singer Katherine Brown in this somewhat underwritten part). When the girl is sent off to her grandma’s cottage, protected by enchantment from any enemies, Jerry has the girl followed by the great hulk of a Big Bad Wolf (Luke Dalli).
As in the story, the Wolf manages to find the Sorceress’s cottage, and swallows her up. Jerry, who has possessed himself of the bracelet that gives the Sorceress her magic powers, is now free to persecute the villagers and imprison Red Riding hood’s father, Chief Big Red (Marta Vella).
As is usual in panto, the plot is made up of a series of episodes. Jerry’s assistant is a winsome but apparently malodorous fairy named Stinker (ahem) Bell (Steffi Thake), whose royal fairy parents we also meet.
Red Riding Hood has a defender, Little Boy Blue (Kristina Frendo), who blows his horn to magical effect, and whom, after adventures and misadventures, she marries – but only after he has been magically transmogrified.
Surely the most technologically accomplished episode is the one in which Red Riding Hood recovers her hood, which has by now been endowed with magic power. Here, the lighting and the use of puppets gives the panto a strong touch of the magic that traditional panto used to have and that now has become rarer.
Galea’s panto is notable for the two twists of the ending that make up for one or two weaker inventions, such as giving Red Riding Hood a trio of friends in the shape of the Three Little Pigs, whose homes are attacked in succession by the Big Bad Wolf. The good-looking chorus copes well with the not-too-taxing dances and sings with the disciplined gusto one looks for in panto.
Mifsud’s Little Red Riding Hood is pretty and pleasant as well as a reasonably good singer but cannot prevail against the powerful funnies and baddies that dominate the stage.
As usual, Anthony Bezzina, the director, has ensured that the show is an enjoyably colour-ful spectacle with good ensembles but also with plenty of scope for Malcolm Galea to display his bravura.
I saw the show on the second night, and feel sure that by tonight it will have the oomph some of the scenes then lacked.
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