Oh yes it is! Pantomime’s in rude health in Brussels
If the English Comedy Club’s performance of Sinbad the Sailor is anything to go by, pantomime is going strong in Brussels.
The comedy club’s first full-capacity theatre performance since the pandemic, Sinbad the Sailor took almost a year to write, rehearse and bring to the stage. The resulting panto is faithful to the traditions of this family-friendly but subversive genre, albeit with nods to its Belgian setting.
All the essential panto elements are here: the dame, the baddy and his bungling sidekicks, song and dance numbers, boos, cheers, and very bad jokes.
Sinbad (played by Cath Howdle) and his Mum Babs (Chris Jones) run a tailor shop in Knokke-le-Souk where they supply competitively-priced, if dangerously static, baggy trousers. Sinbad and his best friend Ali (Hannah Barbosa), possibly the world’s worst barber, live a carefree life having fun with their friends and doing as little work as possible. The only fly in the ointment is Sinbad’s unrequited love for the mysterious Instagram girl who swans in and out of the souk and leaves him tongue-tied and red-faced. She’s none other than Princess Ladida (Cat Harris), escaping the confines of palace life for some ‘authenticity’ in the alleyways of the souk.
Baddie Mustafa, played with relish by Geoff Mamdani, plots to send her parents Sultan and Sultana (yep, Sultana Bran) to sea and have them murdered by the notorious Sinbad the Sailor. But - you guessed it - his hapless henchmen recruit Sinbad the TAILOR by mistake, and confusion and mayhem ensue.
Hannah Riley’s direction takes the story along at a rollicking pace, with plenty of scene changes and songs that keep the attention of all but the very youngest audience members. In fine panto tradition, the punning is scattered with political references and innuendo, which flirt with but stay just about on the right side of politeness.
Sinbad’s stage design is bright and fun with cartoonlike backdrops setting the scenes of souk, palace, ship and shipwreck island, and the costumes are a kaleidoscopic riot of colour.
The adult performers take on their roles with gusto, with Dame Babs and Mustafa in particular gleefully scene-stealing at every opportunity. Kristina Kardum as narrator Scheherezade updates the audience and helps the story along. The young performers playing the four-part-harmony tea thieves and the chorus bring energy and great voices to their roles.
What is most impressive about this production is the accessibility it brought to pantomime for its international audience, coming from many different countries and cultural traditions. Several of the cast members taking on pantomime for the first time, take to the very British tradition with aplomb. It’s confirmation that panto’s combination of over-the-top costumes, satire and sheer silliness is an anecdote to grey skies wherever it’s staged.
Next ECC production: The Boss of it All: an office farce by Lars von Trier, directed by Anna Holmén, will be staged at The Warehouse in Schaerbeek in April.