“a celebration of all that is silly and fun about pantomime, something all the family can enjoy and most certainly will!”
According to Jeff there are six great pantos. According to Dan there are twelve, but his list does include the Queen’s speech. And all six (or twelve) are about to happen in potted form on the stage of the Southwark Playhouse!
Our first pantomime is Jack and the Beanstalk, featuring an ill-timed beanstalk entrance, a moose that lays golden eggs and a mother in a pink feather boa who can’t afford that next bottle of Bollinger, darling. Next up, Dick Whittington, Show White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and finally Aladdin, unless Dan gets his way, in which case it’ll be A Christmas Carol. The northern fairy in Sleeping Beauty is a particular highlight as is Cinderella’s French God-Chicken.
As we travel through the different pantomimes, we also learn about the different pantomime traditions, as Jeff teaches Dan and the audience at the same time. All the classics are there from, “He’s behind you,” to “Oh no he isn’t.” There’s audience participation including a 3D experience of Cinderella’s coach ride home after the ball. There’s satire of course – Dick Whittington is a close imitation of Boris Johnson complete with messy blonde wig and prevaricating Eton voice. Brexit makes an appearance, and overall the show strikes a good balance between entertaining both children and adults alike – although they may not be laughing at the same thing!
Simon Scullion’s set is simple background for the different stories that is brought alive by the wealth of costumes (Nicky Bunch) and props that are paraded across the stage. The windows cut into the set are ideal mechanisms for cameo appearances and entrances from fairies, Prince Charming and the Queen of England.
Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner are a comedy duo who have been working together for years, including as CBBC presenters. As well as performing in the show, they are its writers alongside Richard Hurst. They are clearly having a fantastic time together onstage, and it’s infectious. Clarkson is perhaps the more compelling performer of the two, but still they balance each other well, transforming between a host of characters with ease and wit. There’s a lot of very clever stuff in it, but at its core it’s about having fun, and the constant laughter from the audience was an undeniable measure of that.
This is a celebration of all that is silly and fun about pantomime, something all the family can enjoy and most certainly will!
“There’s never been a better time to make this study, and the Jermyn Street production does it with panache”
On 11th October 2019, two days after Jermyn Street Theatre opened its new production, newspapers reported that former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma was to stand trial for corruption charges in relation to billion-pound arms deals. Charges against Zuma are not new; these same charges had simply been held off until now.
This is all very timely for The Ice Cream Boys. The sweet name belies the murky political intrigue at its heart. The single act play posits a meeting between two architects of the rainbow nation’s modern history: Zuma and his former intelligence services mastermind, Ronnie Kasrils.
In Gail Louw’s new play, we’re asked to enter into the fantasy of Kasrils and Zuma meeting in the present day. They’re old men now, their paths crossing in a starched hospital room as they both await tests and treatments for the sorts of conditions that come to men in their eighties. Zuma reports that he’s slow to pass water (‘Prostate’, he says grimly) and Kasrils that he has a possible skin melanoma after ‘all that time in the sun’. But the men, former allies, have plenty of unresolved differences. Cue a complex but taut psychological interplay, as the pair play metaphorical (and literal) chess and debate lives spent steeped in divisions of race and class.
Set design (Cecilia Trono) is simple but clever, neatly invoking a clinical white hotel room that acts as a kind of purgatory. The men are left alone to spar but for occasional interruptions by their nurse – and their past. When history intrudes, often in the form of painful memories, lighting (by Tim Mascall) shifts, jarring back to the cool, sanitised hospital room after.
The two male leads – Andrew Francis as Zuma and Jack Klaff as Kasrils – hold the stage with astonishing personality. Klaff, especially, is spellbinding, using his whole physicality to invoke Kasrils and maximising his passing resemblance to the man. The South African accents, so often mangled, are almost faultless, and the charisma such that we find ourselves in a bind as to whether to warm to or despise these deeply flawed individuals.
It might be easy to overlook the third player here; Bu Kunene as Thandi, the nurse tending to her patients with increasing exasperation. The play has Thandi transforming into numerous other characters, appearing magically transformed each time – from Zuma’s mother to Nelson Mandela, Kunene delivers with skill and a quiet certainty. So understated is her performance, especially as an increasingly steely Thandi, and so in contrast to the bombast of the Zuma and Kasrils characters, that it shows a real talent for handling sensitive characterisation. It’s also essential to see a woman here, playing and representing the many women who were implicated and caught up in – and harmed by – the political and personal machinations of the men.
The politicians appear variously as children, laughing and singing in fond waves of nostalgia and petulant when denied ice cream, and as uncompromising despots debating solutions for their divided country. Each is misty-eyed at memories of the women who influenced them – but in the next breath, we’re graphically reminded of Zuma’s rape accusation (dismissed in court but presented as near-fact here, with Zuma barely bothering to deny it).
And this is the truth of politics; complicated, messy issues led by complicated, messy and perhaps ultimately irredeemable individuals. There’s never been a better time to make this study, and the Jermyn Street production does it with panache.