Many years ago, in Southern California, I worked in theater. I once got as high and mighty as the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, but most of my stage time took place at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company. It was a family friendly theater seating somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 people. The shows consisted of a two act play filled with cheesy musical numbers and bad puns, followed by another act of equally silly song and dance numbers. As part of the introduction, the emcee instructed the audience about the musical cues for when to cheer, when to boo and hiss, and when to let out a sympathetic "awww!"
I have often thought with both nostalgia and longing of those days. Recently, I attended a performance of Snow White and the 7 Zombies in Cork, Ireland. I felt as if I had come home to the melodrama – only without the family friendly aspect – and I LOVED it!
I sat down with Angela Newman, founder of Chattyboo Productions, to discuss the show and learn a bit about "panto". For the uninitiated, in Ireland, the UK, and several other countries, panto (short for "pantomime") is a Christmas tradition. Much like the aforementioned melodrama, the format is one of musical comedy and involves audience participation. Additionally, there is a usual set of roles, some of which are listed below:
- the "dame" (played by a man in drag) who is often the most risqué of the characters, but also the most likeable, and is very representative of local culture
- the principal boy (played by a girl)
- the villain
- the baron (corrupt, but has an epiphany and turns good)
In Ireland, many children grow up with a visit to the panto as part of their yearly holiday ritual. For some, it may be the only theater (or, in this case, "theatre") they ever attend, returning later in life to bring their own children. For the last four years, Chattyboo has produced a version that is strictly for adults.
I asked Angela if inclusion of the word "adult" in the description had led to any concern from the local community. She said during the first two years there was a lot of curiosity and some confusion as to whether or not it implied elements of a burlesque review. You will be relieved (or perhaps disappointed) to learn that while the humor and language are most definitely for the 18 and over crowd, all the performers remained well clothed on stage. And, alas, no protests. "It would make for great press!" said Angela.
From Jack and the Beanstalk, the 2011-2012 season adult panto.
I will admit, as someone with a background in both performing in theater and working behind the scenes in stage and film, that I can be quite critical of production value and delivery. In this show, not every performance was begging for a Tony nomination. And unlike my experiences in Southern California, singing ability was clearly not at the top of everyone's skill set. The sound cues and music were humorous and well-timed, but the lighting scheme could really use some jazzing up. However, the material was topical, timely, raunchy, and hilarious. Equally important, it was all delivered with such enthusiasm and energy that very little else mattered.
The humor ranged from a ribald discussion of Vomitmore's (the bad guy, as you may have guessed) lack of personal hygiene to gothic angst, from bad iPod puns to the recent government budget. Take, for example, the exchange our villain had while spelling his name to tech support:
"'O' as in 'austerity'?"
"Austerity doesn't begin with 'O'!"
"No, it begins with a series of financial blunders…"
Even after years apart, my friends can easily find me in a crowded room from the distinctive sound of my laugh. I'm sure I made an impression on my fellow audience members (and possibly embarrassed my companion) the night I attended the show because I shrieked and howled so often. When one of the gags referenced Sminky Shorts, a series of animations that have gone viral in Cork because of the highly localized humor, I nearly fell out of my chair. Another howl-worthy moment came later in the second act with the entrance of a well-known religious figure. Let's just say the music + the beard (which resembled a road killed beaver) made for a moment of divine comedy.
Angela's mother makes the costumes and does an outstanding job. Angela says sometimes she has a hard time picturing her mother's finished vision, but when it comes together it's always amazing. Indeed, they are so unique and well made that they are available for rent. (Photo at left is from The Importance of Being Earnest.)
There are a couple of brief dance numbers, which is quite a feat considering the size of the stage. The finale of the show – I won't spoil it; you'll have to go see for yourself – is one of them and is set to an extremely popular song currently burning up YouTube. The lyrics are customized to continue breaking the fourth wall and poke fun at the audience. Naturally, they also include the word "zombie".
Snow White & The 7 Zombies is being featured upstairs at An Spailpin Fanach, a well known Cork pub. You can buy drinks and pub grub to consume during the performance. Purchase with caution, however, as you may end up spitting it all over your fellow audience members as you laugh, boo, cheer, and chant "braaaains…"
The audience really seemed to love the the show, as did I. Recommended? Definitely! And the sooner the better. What if the zombie apocalypse hits before you've gone?
Dates: 5 December 2012 to 5 January 2013 (assuming we are not hit by a zombie apocalypse)
Days: Wednesday through Saturday nights (excluding 26 & 27 December)
Time: 8:30 pm
Location: An Spailpin Fanach, 27 – 29 South Main Street, Cork, Ireland
Tickets: €15/12, group rate available.
For bookings call: +353 (0)89 442 7883
Starring Adrian Scanlan, Angela Newman, Peter O'Mahony, Marie O'Donovan, Sean McNally, and Luke Barry. Directed by Trevor Ryan.
For more information on Chattyboo's current production(s), please visit their website: www.chattybooproductions.com/production.htm