Review: The Boomkak Panto, Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)

Review by Charlotte Smee

Written and directed by Virginia Gay, directed by Richard Carroll, with songs by Eddie Perfect

Trying to describe The Boomkak Panto is like trying to describe what it’s like to eat a mango Weis bar in your undies on the side of your grandma’s pool containing your four siblings and a dog to a cat person who’s never heard of mangoes, has no siblings, and doesn’t know how to swim. It’s a simply unmatched moment of pure ecstasy and carefully crafted chaos; somehow, in spite of all the terror in the world, this magic has collected itself and transported you here.

The show follows the story of the small fairytale town of Boomkak, somewhere near Cootamundra, that is under threat from the caped, moustached and hi-vis-ed Big Developer (Rob Johnson). The townspeople band together and what starts as a throwaway joke from Zoe (Zoe Terakes) becomes a wacky journey to stage a pantomime and save the town!

As Virginia Gay herself writes, if you’ve never seen a pantomime you won’t know that they’re batsh*t mental. Probably the closest equivalent for a modern-ish audience are things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or The Muppets, but even then, none of the Muppets will yell back at you when you scream “he’s behind you!” or boo furiously at the bad guy. And, The Muppets will never make you cry as you find yourself waving a $10 plastic light-up fairy wand with a fairy godmother (Deborah Galanos) to change the laws and help the queer lovers have a blissfully mushy onstage kiss.

I cackled, I yelled, I screamed, I cried, and I longed to be on the stage with them.

If this sounds mildly terrifying to you, it probably is. But never fear! The meta-meta-ness of the show means Gay has cast herself as Alison, the ex-panto stage manager, ready to teach the townspeople and the audience the ropes of panto. Rob Johnson as Butch, or more gloriously, as the Big Developer pulls us further in with his unabashed commitment to ridiculousness. It’s impossible to believe that he’s never seen a panto before when he fits in so well! Hamed Sadeghi as the audience-aware on-stage musician is fantastic too, underscoring a wonderful cacophony of Countdown hits and Eddie Perfect’s original airs.

Along with the glittery chaos of pantomime comes the earnest lovers, and Terakas plays their part with the kind of passionate love and anger that makes my little queer heart sing. When they came out in their firefighter costume, I swear I stopped breathing, just as Yasmin (Mary Soudi) did as she tore herself away to be with Butch. Billy McPherson as local Aboriginal elder and Zoe’s dad Darren is a guiding light for Zoe, and he rightly gives wisdom and weight to their struggles.

The highlight of the show was of course, the panto. Just prior to opening curtain, John (Toby Truslove) finds himself at a Bunnings sausage sizzle and fabulously succumbs to the snags and white bread that are his downfall. Instead, Alison takes the stage as the Panto Dame – glittering jumpsuit and all – and invites us along to sing the unofficial chorus to The Angels’ Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?

Michael Hankin’s set and costumes are just the right amount of realistic and ridiculous, turning the old tomato sauce factory (wink) into somewhere part bazaar and part small town amateur theatre. The Big Developer seats himself in the entire front row of the audience and challenges the townspeople to show some truth and beauty, and by gay goddess Magda Szubanski do they show us. I cackled, I yelled, I screamed, I cried, and I longed to be on the stage with them.

Perhaps the only fault I could find with this show is that I wish there were more. Some moments could have been even bigger and tighter, particularly when John came out in his garishly purple, pink and yellow ‘Slippery When Wet’ costume and we didn’t get one ‘wet’ joke to do it justice.

This show embodies what it means to use joy as an act of resistance, bringing us back to theatre, the arts and to each other by turning something historically a bit terrible into a modern celebration of togetherness. Virginia Gay and her ragtag team of artists are changing theatre for the queerer and the better, and you’d be stupid to miss it.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Boomkak Panto plays at the Belvoir St Theatre until 23 December 2021.

Creative Team
Director Richard Carroll
Set & Costume Designer Michael Hankin
Lighting Designer Jasmine Rizk
Assistant Designer Cris Baldwin
Assistant Director Keerthi Subramanyam
Composer Eddie Perfect
Sound Designer Kellie-Anne Kimber
Music Director Zara Stanton
Choreographer Elle Evangeslista
Intimacy Coordinator Chloe Dallimore
Scenic Artist Russell Carey
Stage Manager Luke MCGettigan
Assistant Stage Manager Ayah Tayeh
Assistant Stage Manager Bradley Barrack

Parnia Deborah Galanos
Alison Virginia Gay
Butch/BD Rob Johnson
Darren Billy McPherson
Musician Hamed Sadeghi
Yazmin Mary Soudi
Zoe Zoe Terakes
John Toby Truslove

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