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The Foreigners’ Panto | Bold Theatre

The Foreigners’ Panto is, as it proclaims in its opening number, something of a love letter to the very British art of pantomime from a group of people often excluded from British culture.

Shani Erez’s script hits all the usual panto beats, with a love story, an epic quest, audience participation galore, some truly atrocious puns, and an evil villain intent on destroying all that our heroes hold dear. But, as this is the foreigners’ panto, there is also some timely commentary on the way Britain in general and the British government in particular treats (or rather mistreats) its immigrant population.

The setup is a panto within a panto (pantoception, if you will), with the cast often breaking the fourth wall to express confusion about the audience’s reactions and also to let their own drama bleed into the show which they are creating.

Our heroine in the pantomime itself is by Zara (Aliyah Roberts), a young immigrant desperate to become a Londomer (no that’s not a typo, switching out m’s for n’s is a running gag in the piece). She, her mother Dame Foreign (Fabrizio Matteini) and their cow Visa (Amanda Vilanova) soon come under threat of deportation, as Zara’s friendship with Benedict (Suzy Kohane) threatens his father Lord Villain’s (Vikash Bhai) power. It’s up to the others, sometimes aided and sometimes thwarted by policeman John Constable (Gabriel Paul), to fight the villain and the system.

Alongside the pantomime drama, the actress playing Zara is fighting her own potential deportation. While this lends the show some poignancy away from the panto slapstick, it can also make the piece feel a little confused at times. 

Roberts as Zara is a strong actress, with a pretty singing voice which she is able to showcase in the second-act ballad ‘Oh Night Bus’, while Kohane keeps the audience laughing with her physical comedy and seemingly never-ending array of costumes. Vilanova is given some of the least to do, but steals the stage whenever she’s given the opportunity. 

Of the men, Bhai is the clear standout, with his mix of overblown menace fading into bewilderment when the audience boos him. Paul provides a surprisingly nuanced portrayal for a pantomime, and Matteini is a fabulous dame.

The production is somewhat lacking in memorable songs, with the exception of a refrain which runs through the piece asking the audience not to take offence at the company’s take on panto. Dance numbers are also limited by the size of the cast, although movement director Tara Young has done some clever work, particularly in the night bus scene.

Musical director Leo Elso comes into his own as a seventh member of the cast, as well as playing keys throughout, providing voiceover effects by speaking into a plastic cup at the side of the stage, and comically (and intentionally) losing his place.

The Foreigners’ Panto is a fun homage to the pantomime with an important message at its heart. While in need of a little tightening, it is still an enjoyable evening out, guaranteed to make you laugh and probably to make you cry as well.

The Foreigners’ Panto runs at BOLD Elephant until 28 October. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

{AD | Gifted} Written by Julie | Photography by Lidia Crisafulli

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