The Boomkak Panto
Writer: Virginia Gay
Directors: Richard Carroll, Virginia Gay
Venue: Belvoir Upstairs Theatre
November 20 – December 23, 2021
It’s wonderful to have the Belvoir stage and actors back in action again and despite, or because of, months of penalising shutdown, making an explosive return with the musical comedy The Boomkak Panto. From the moment the cast rockets onto the stage with their opening number, dressed in glittering gold from shoulder to toe, flouncing fringes and brandishing ribbons, we are ready to enjoy a night of exuberant fun and cultural subversion.
Boomkak, a rural backwater beautifully evoked by Michael Hankins’ faded backdrop with realistic dusty weeds bordering the once active tomato sauce factory, is facing a crisis. A Big Developer has set his sights on the small community and the townspeople unimpressed by the dubious advantages of “redevelopment”, decide to fight back. However, challenging BG (a sartorially up-market Rob Johnson) requires money, and the Crisis Committee set up to deal with this intrusion into their harmonious way of life, have to find some, and quickly.
A suggestion from one resting actor and tree-changer, John (Toby Truslove) longing for the limelight is to stage a “panto”. Unbelievably, despite a comical and probably true catalogue of all that is wrong with pantomimes, engagingly delivered by John’s partner, Alison (Virginia Gay), the committee enthusiastically takes up the idea. Alison is nevertheless compliant and from here on the old-fashioned pantomime with its bad jokes, slapstick, star-crossed lovers (traditionally with a boy-hero who is really a girl) and Dame Cranky is repurposed, although still sprawling and deliberately chaotic, as a moral fable for the land of Oz.
The contradictions of the little town are highlighted in a comedic way. The Committee unhesitatingly asks avuncular First Nations Cultural Consultant Darren (Billy McPherson) whether it is culturally acceptable to stage a panto but meets an obstacle in the form of prohibitive council regulations when Darren dons his other hat, 2IC to the Mayor. Widowed Iranian refugee, Pania (Deborah Galanos), thankful for her adopted country and adopted into the community, nevertheless pressures her daughter into a relationship with gawky Butch (again Johnson) whom Pania shamelessly covets as a true blue Aussie lad.
There are internal threats to the harmony of Boomkak and true blue Butch is one of them. While his unexamined egoism is comical, his unexamined racist and sexist attitudes would be laughable if they were not so destructive to both community wellbeing and individual happiness. An equally serious threat to community health is the outsider who chooses to leave – depriving the town of the opportunity for a richer, more diverse social interaction. The vulnerable but courageous Zoe (Zoe Terakes) – bullied by Butch and rejected by Yasmin unable to face the consequences of being an outsider too – sees a new life in Sydney as salvation.
It is a fairy tale, and the villains loudly booed by the willing audience meet a bad end and the queer AF love story triumphs as we know it will from the beginning. In the meantime, entertained by the jokes about theatrical merchandising, the menace of being sloshed with white paint by a disoriented Dame, an hilarious rendition of “I left no ring with her” speech from Twelfth Night, the subtle musical punctuation of Hamed Sadeghi, new Eddie Perfect songs and actors enjoying themselves, the audience will have a great night on the town.