Over the past few years, it has become part of the established seasonal expectation in this genre of theatre, for MADC’s Christmas panto to be inextricably linked to Alan Montanaro. Whether as Dame or Baddie, Montanaro’s brand of humour based on excellent timing and stereotypical elements extracted from obviously Maltese segments of society, has created an alter-ego which embodies Panto. An especially MADC type of Panto.
Montanaro, who also scripted this year’s piece, titled it Un-Believe It!, a catchphrase which has become ubiquitous in Panto-speak and has extended to popular use, at least among panto-goers. In a sense it has become part of brand-Montanaro and is used to market the signature Dame-persona and the show that goes with her, which has been carefully honed over the years.
Director Nanette Brimmer has, as usual, pulled together a very good selection of performers, with an ever-increasing pool of talented young blood to form part of the chorus – vocally trained by coach Roger Tirazona.
Her hand in costume design, along with Martin Azzopardi and Giulia Orsi, who also made the costumes for the Dame, this year dubbed “Vera Tastee”, is very clearly seen as part of the collaborative creative effort with Montanaro, whose “Vera Tastee” is modelled on Truly Scrumptious – the saccharine heroine in the 1968 musical film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang scripted by Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes, loosely based on Ian Fleming’s eponymously titled book.
Outrageous hair and wigs by Michael and Guy completed the Dame’s look – which as always, was all out pseudo-ħamalla and hilariously funny for it.
Montanaro based the plot on the theatrical version of the stage musical and changed it liberally to allow for some truly funny panto moments, although the ad lib part during the children’s segment is always one of the best for laughs – a skill which Montanaro has perfected to a T.
His ridiculously long legs gave some high kicks to Francesco Nicodeme’s choreography under Paul Abela’s musical direction.
Azzopardi’s cameo role as Lord Tastee and John Marinelli’s as the Toy Maker were suitably crafted and both gave polished performances, as did Michael Mangion in his role as the Child Catcher – which is, let’s face it, a great evil role to play. Mangion doubled as Mr Crankshaft – the scrapyard owner who sells the car to Vera Tastee; a car which sadly looked great but which made only feeble attempts at flying – with limited hydraulic automation, it relied only on lighting and the Vera Tastee touch, to be simply an accessory on the show. James Borg’s acceptable Gramps – old Potter – is kidnapped and taken to the land of Kitchnik in a case of mistaken identity by two spies.
The spoilt king and queen of Kitchnik, Renato Dimech and Audrey Scerri, were rather outshone by their bumbling minions, Whilhelm (Rambert Attard) and Vilma (Antonella Mifsud), who both put on very enjoyable stereotypical Germanic accents and marched around the stage like two rejects from the Hitler Youth, with Attard in a toothbrush moustache, spoofing the hun from ‘Allo ‘Allo to Die Hard and beyond.
Capitalising on Anthony Edridge’s Britishness as inventor Prof. Potter, father to Penelope (Ella Manduca) and Peter (David Coppini), the show’s direction went that way – with Vera Tastee fancying the pants off the silver fox with the British accent, who cannot speak Minglish to save his life, and taking a liking to his two sweet and precocious children. Edridge gave quite a straight performance in contrast to Montanaro’s over-the-top one and the show was all the more effective for this choice, especially since the piece was clearly character-driven, with a rather weak script being highly reliant on the Montanaro brand.
It was essentially a vehicle for the Dame-persona to shine, and would not have been as enjoyable with anybody else. Manduca was perhaps a bit contrived in her characterisation but gave nonetheless a good performance, while Coppini was much more natural in his interpretation and made it seem effortless. The general narration was left up to the four “Les Gals” - Faye Micallef-Grimaud, Harley Mallia, Maria Cassar, Maya D’Ugo, who did a great job and shone in their own right as emcees and songsters, giving the production better cohesion.
Un-Believe It! was an undeniably fun panto, which is worth watching, but was very light on scripting and included many of the usual political and current events gags as usual. With notable exception: the incredibly irritating pen-apple song which went viral on You Tube a few months ago and became a frighteningly catchy song-sheet choice – truly highlighting how the ridiculous has become accepted as normal – and we’d better believe it.
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