Review By Rosie Niven
What do you do when the livelihood of your town is at stake, about to be decimated by big developers with no regard for the people that reside there? You put on a panto of course. That’s what the residents of Boomkak decide, a tiny town with little to its name besides the old tomato sauce factory that’s gathering dust, taking on a developer that values money over the lives of the people by creating a show that will hopefully save their town from becoming another highway or coal mine.
Written and Directed by Virginia Gay with co-Director Richard Carroll, The Boomkak Panto is a cacophony of laughter, music, and celebration of the human spirit. This play within a play, or panto within a play, invites the audience into the chaos with ease. Audience members energetically boo the villain, cast spells on the characters, and even sing along to a rendition of The Angels’ “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again”, screaming “no way, get fucked, fuck off” at the top of their lungs with glee. There is no shortage of joyous participation from those in the Belvoir audience on opening night. The fantastical and chaotic plot often fails to make sense, but as Virginia Gay’s character Alison states, it is entirely in the spirit of the panto. Characters monologue endlessly, spray the audience with water guns, and break the fourth wall, embracing classic pantomime traditions while intertwining elements of modern theatre.
Gay and Carroll have assembled a talented ensemble for this massive undertaking, joining Deborah Galanos, Rob Johnson, Billy McPherson, Mary Soudi, Zoe Terakes, Toby Truslove, and Gay herself to bring to life the resilient residents of Boomkak, accompanied by the musical talents of Hamed Sadeghi. The characters in Boomkak represent a new Australia, one filled with queer love, cultural appreciation, and acceptance of difference. While each character has their flaws, their strength of spirit is charismatic and has you rooting for the tiny town to triumph over evil. Although each actor’s experience with the panto style varied, the Directing team highlighted the strengths of each performer, including scenes and moments that showcased their respective abilities. Moments of stillness and genuine human connection gave the audience reprise from the chaos befalling on the residents of Boomkak and allowed these caricatures to elicit empathy and joy.
Despite its joyous celebrations and enthusiastic audience participation, The Boomkak Panto falters in two areas. At two-and-a-half hours long, moments of the show lull and feel unnecessary or indulgent, drawing out scenes past their point of engagement. Some of the jokes too feel as if they were written solely for the audience filled with members of the theatre industry that were there on opening night - quips about the actors past performances, or the endless glass sets that seem to have overtaken recent shows, while resonating with the opening night audience, may alienate regular theatre goers when they’re unable to understand a number of jokes.
The Boomkak Panto is a vibrant celebration of our long-awaited return to the theatre, bringing silliness and laughter in a time where it is still very much needed. While the show’s length compromised its strength, the resilience of humanity seen throughout the show felt poignant, and left the audience dancing out of the theatre after months of disconnection from the arts. If we’ve learned anything from this show, it is to take a little strength from this tiny town, and that no matter our size, we can still put up a fight. Long live Boomkak!