Belvoir St Theatre, November 24
Imagine an Australia where the Aboriginal people are fully respected, the refugees are welcomed and integrated, neither gender nor sexuality is pigeonholed or judged, and the community collectively fights off rapaciousness. No, fair enough. Neither can I. Well, how about a bit of Australia. Maybe one town. Let’s call it Boomkak.
That’s what Virginia Gay calls it in her curiosity, The Boomkak Panto, which is a panto within a play within a panto that imagines all the above and more. Much more. Gay has set out to make an elongated party piece to celebrate the emergence of theatre from hibernation, to celebrate surviving another year and to celebrate pantos, while also lampooning them. It is so disarmingly simple in its aspirations that it’s almost like celebrating celebrations, while nodding to many of the panto conventions, with crucial exception that it’s not for children.
Gay wrote it (aided by three air-sweetening songs from Eddie Perfect), directs it (in tandem with Richard Carroll) and takes the role of Alison, the one person in Boomkak who knows how to mount the panto they need to raise money to fight a grasping, mustachioed developer (Rob Johnson). Sometimes she’s easily the best thing in her own show, but then she also has some of the sharpest lines.
Of course it’s irreverent at every turn, whether towards pollies (the mayor of Boomkak is in Hawaii when bushfires strike) or theatre, itself (with Gay amusingly demonstrating the style of acting that might earn one a Helpmann Award). Silliness and chaos reign supreme, and, in the best panto tradition, there’s more plot logic in landscape architecture than in the unfolding of the story. Another panto tradition is having a guest star each night, and here it was a highly entertaining David Campbell.
But for all the warmth of heart that underpins it, it’s a comedy that’s just not as consistently funny as it should be. Given that it lasts for over two-and-a-half hours, this was a problem that was pretty easily solved: no one decreed the show must be that long, so Gay and Carroll should have been much more ruthless with her material. Cut about 40 minutes of flab out of it, and it would be fizzing.
The best lines are fabulous, as when Darren, the local Aboriginal elder (Billy McPherson) asks John, an ex-minor TV star (Toby Truslove) what the colour of the paint on the walls of his home is called, and John replies, “White Privilege”. We just need to be ducking those zingers more often. The show could be played much faster, too. Excessive time is spent while characters think about what to say next, as if something naturalistic is going on, rather than cartoon people in a cartoon town pretending to mount a panto.
The gifted Hamed Sadeghi provides live music, rendering some Oz rock classics on his middle-eastern string instruments – which is quite a chortle in itself. Michael Hankin’s costumes include an astounding creation for Truslove as the panto dame, with a skirt partly fashioned from rubber gloves.
It’s hard to take a hatchet to something that’s all froth and anarchy, but the show’s essence would hardly fly out the window were it a little slicker, faster and funnier.
Until December 23.