December 14 2016
Leading actor tells us why Panto is special and this production at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London blends comedy, fun and a tad of politics…
By Suman Bhuchar
IF IT’S IN DECEMBER and at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, it’s got to be Panto…
And so, let’s jump on a ship and join “Sinbad The Sailor” – and to add to the atmosphere, the ushers are wearing Pirates hats, carrying toy monkeys on their shoulders, while the show programme has a lot of games, to keep the young audience amused.
The show demands a lot of audience participation from the beginning and starts with Captain Greenbeard (Alim Jayda) and his sidekick, Clanker (Josephine Melville) doing their utmost to engage the audience by cajoling them to sing the perennially popular sailor ditty: what shall we do with the drunken sailor?
www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with Jayda to talk Sinbad and Panto.
“It is one of my favourite things”, he confided, “even though it is exhausting with 12 shows a week.”
Panto, he explains is a form of theatre where “the fourth wall doesn’t exist”, and the audience become the panto family as soon as they enter the theatre – this basically means everyone can have a riotous old time, be a bit bawdy and behave badly in the nicest possible way.
‘Sinbad The Sailor’, as all asianculturevulture wallahs know, is an ‘Arabian Nights’ fable, where the eponymous hero goes on magical adventures, meets monsters, acquires money and fame.
At Stratford, the story has been given a total makeover – something that happens in Panto and here Sinbad is “totally wuss” (their words) and has a sister, ‘Sindbada’ (Gabby Wong) who engages in the adventures and enjoys a bit of swashbuckling with pirates herself.
“Panto challenges people’s perceptions in society,” provoked Jayda.
There’s a good doze of Girl Power to our lovely, feisty Sindbada.
Sinbad (Julian Capolei), meanwhile, is in love with the Princess (Marianna Neofitou) but she has also received a proposal from baddie ‘Prince Naw Ze-Uzz’ (Michael Bertenshaw) – there are lots of name associated jokes – and so her father sets them both a challenge and whosoever is successful will win her hand.
The point here is not the story but all the banter – actors are always stepping out of their role to talk to the audience and the pianist, Robert Hyman who is sitting in the pit just below the stage.
There are jokes ranging from Brexit to Trump and Jayda says he’s lucky to get the support of Kerry Michael (artistic director at the venue and directing this show), who has encouraged him to go on “every single day and do something different”, enabling him to go from political gags to comedy to satire.
Panto nowadays is highly competitive, so venues have to work hard to grab the audience. This show features a myriad of special effects, animation and an incredible tropical rain-forest complete with giant monkey puppets.
There is also some subtle product placement with a Perrier bottle housing the depressed, ‘Green Genie Uz’, played by Rina Fatania, looking ever so elegant in her green harem pants.
Jayda who grew up between Hemel Hampstead and Canada trained at the Italia Conti Academy tells www.asianculturevulture.com that his best moment is when he gets to fight with the Princess and enjoy the reactions of the audience.
Jayda is of mixed heritage – his father is an Asian Muslim from Tanzania and his mother is English. Both are deaf, and they met when his dad came to study Maths and English in London because they had a course suitable for his needs.
He feels really proud when he sees Asian audiences enjoying the show.
“I don’t feel my community go to the theatre enough,” he explained. “At the theatre you expose yourself to the whole world and put aside political views to become friends in one space, because you experience the same journey together.”
Lead Picture: Clanker (Josphine Melville) and Captain Greenbeard (Alim Jayda)
Pictures: Sharon Wallace for Theatre Royal Stratford East
‘Sinbad The Sailor’ – until January 21, Monday-Saturday, 2pm and 7pm, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 1BN.
More info/Booking: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/sinbad-the-sailor/