The second production by BOLD Theatre is billed as a “mad-cap political comedy with songs” and takes its cue from the conventions of the British pantomime, as interpreted by “Foreigners”.
We are in Londom (with an M) with the Lord Mayor Villain – played by Vikash Bhai – flaunting his wealth, status, and slightly dumb son Benedict Bumbercatch (a scene-stealing Suzy Kohane).
There’s plenty of scope for jokes, misunderstandings, and a prophecy that threatens the status quo when cleaner Dame Foreign (Fabrizio Matteini) appears with daughter Zara (a ‘turned-up to 11’ Aliyah Roberts).
The panto elements are all present, down to a very philosophical cow called Visa (Amanda Vilanova), a bit of magical red tape against the ‘Giant of Bureaucracy’, calls and response, and a romance between the main boy and girl.
Musical accompaniment is provided by Leo Elso, done up as a bizarre approximation of a comic conductor. The songs could be a tad more satiric in tone, but “Night Bus” says a lot about the plight of those who come to call our country home.
Not every joke lands, but I found that Vilanova and Matteini were gifted clowns and caperers, while Gabriel Paul’s poster-perfect policeman has his moments. Bhai’s bad guy is fun in his confusion (“why are they booing”) and impish glee in discovering how to generate stage mist.
What The Foreigners’ Panto may lack is a bit of bite – Shani Erez’s script gives Zara/Roberts a meta-story of a possible deportation outside of the play, but it doesn’t quite work – but it does highlight how both immigrants who come here, willingly or not, and those born here with a family heritage elsewhere, can still feel they don’t belong.
Overall, I found this an entertaining show with some ‘Britaimse’ home truths like the “I’m sorry” dance and the constant enquiry of “where are you from?”. It isn’t perfect, but neither is life, and there is the traditional panto closure of partnership for all.
There is a literal elephant in the room – apt for the venue – and a few too many pauses between scenes, but I laughed, I appreciated what co-directors Erez, Sarah Goddard, and Marianne Badrichani were trying to achieve, and loved Sammy Dowson’s design, which apes both London and panto styles.
Image credit: Lidia Crisafulli