THE BOOMKAK PANTO : UPSTAIRS @ BELVOIR STREET

A scene from ‘The Boomkak Opera’ Photo Brett Boardman

Belvoir has sprung back to life from the lockdowns with a lively, mostly fun show that is a pantomime within a pantomime. It’s not for children however. THE BOOMKAK PANTO includes strong language and sexual references. ‘Boomkak’ is listed in the Urban Dictionary as an occasion ‘where you talk about really random things, but make it sound spiritual or philosophical’. The term was created by theatre students at a high school in America. Belvoir’s Boomkak is a small town somewhere in the outback that represents a microcosm of Australia.

As one of the opening dialogues tells us, the real purpose of a pantomime is to gather unconnected bits of classic stories and fairy tales randomly so that the show doesn’t make any sense. From then on we know we’re in for some fun, lots of confusion and some jabs at Australian political madness.

Boomkak residents decide to put on a ‘panto’ to raise money to prevent the evil developer from doing his worst in the quiet little town. Two and a half hours later we finally get to see the show we know from the beginning is going to happen and is going to thwart the evil developer. In between, there is dancing, singing, and the wonderful Hamed Sadeghi playing the guitar and the oud.The idea is to have the audience participate by calling out and shouting. When the evil developer appears, the audience is encouraged to boo loudly. When  the young Yasmin is trying to decide if she should run away with the town twerp or stay with Zoe, the audience call out for her to choose Zoe. Most of it is fun except when the audience participation is so raucous you have trouble  hearing the actors. 

There are references specific to the Belvoir, such as the faded tomato sauce factory sign in the set’s landscape painting. Belvoir is in what was once a Cerebos Tomato Sauce factory. There are theatre references not all in the audience would know, such as quips about NIDA, WAAPA, Peter Carroll and the Helpmann Award. As the playwright’s theatre notes explains, she included “a thousand in-jokes specifically designed for Sydney theatre loving audiences”.

THE BOOMKAK PANTO was written by Virginia Gay, who also co-directs and plays Alison, the woman who ends up attempting to direct the unruly panto players and ever-changing panto story line. Virginia has some of the best lines. Her singing in the final scene is a high point. Virginia also starred in Belvoir’s Calamity Jane in 2018.

The other co-director is Richard Carroll. Richard is a board member of In The Pipeline Arts which runs Hayes Theatre Company. He is also a member of the assessment panel for New Musicals Australia, and for the Helpmann Awards.

Rob Johnson plays two roles, the evil developer, and Butch, the village twerp. His costumes are wonderful. As the evil developer he wears a pin stripe suit and matching pinstripe cape. Rob is wonderful in both roles.

Billy McPherson plays the Aboriginal elder. He is the wise man who accepts the new ways and holds the residents together when all seems lost. 

Deborah Galanos as Parnia, an Iranian immigrant and longtime Boomkak resident. Zoe Terakes plays Zoe the young woman thwarted by her once lover Yazman, played by Mary Soudi. Toby Truslove is John, the once almost famous actor who has moved to Boomkak to step out of the limelight he was never really in. 

But the prize for the night goes to set and costume designer Michael Hankin. His most elaborate and hilarious costumes appear in the last scene when the town finally puts on the Pantomime. All his costumes are just wonderful. For Belvoir he has previously designed ‘Angels in America’,’ A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Dark Room’. 

The set’s landscape painter is Russell Carey. His painting on the back wall uses perspective to draw the eye into the vast empty spaces of the outback. You’re not in an old tomato sauce factory; you’re out in the open spaces. 

Three of the songs were composed by Eddie Perfect. The intro music and interval music plays ‘I love Areoplane Jelly’, ‘Skippy’, ‘Happy Little Vegemite’ and the like. These seem out of keeping with the young adult audience this show attracts. The play is about a new era. There are several modern pieces such as ‘I’m in Chains’, an iconic cult song which many in the audience knew and enthusiastically sang along to.

The play feels way too long. We lose the plot; we fade out; we wonder when it’s going to end. The sequin-covered gold-costumed dance at the start of the show detracts from the story. It’s overkill. The playwright says in her program notes “How to make a truly Aussie panto, that taught people the rules of the art form but delivered truckloads of heart… How to make a show that was actually triumphant, and…leaves you feeling connected, elated, and feeling like you could change the world?”

Perhaps THE BOOMKAK PANTO tries to do too much. 

THE BOOMKAK PANTO plays upstairs at Belvoir Street Theatre   until December 23, 2021.

Review by Carol Dance

 

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