A group of immigrants come together to put on their own take on a classic British pantomime, with some themes drawing all-too-real parallels to one of the cast-members' own lives. As they put on their show, the absurdity of the state of play for immigrants in London today is highlighted and challenged through laughter and tears.
Firstly, this production must be praised for its ability to, exactly as it claims, cater for both panto lovers and haters alike. As a notorious panto despiser, this reviewer had a wonderful time, thoroughly enjoying the humour without feeling overwhelmed by pure cringe – not an easy feat!
The intentional DIY style of this production is mostly charming, but occasionally wears thin as a joke in and of itself, and we also want for better and louder sound in some moments (usually singing). The direction could also use some general polishing (even the deliberate chaos is unnecessarily messy at times); while the villainous beats often need more malevolence and weight to entice the audience's 'boo's, the whole cast do a fantastic job of breaking the fourth wall as and when required. Group songs either need to be committed to or cut from the show itself. Certainly, some cuts must be made for the piece as a whole not to feel like it drags, particularly in the first half. However, Shani Erez's script shines through with its humour, wit, and clever political commentary, and Sammy Dowson and Fiona McKeon's set design really is lovely and perfectly fits the feel of the show.
A host of exceptional performances deserve mention: Aliya Roberts leads the cast impressively as Zara – a fantastic actress and singer, she manages to play the “straight man” of the piece in a way that doesn't feel exhausted and delivers sweet hilarity and gut-punch sadness to equal effect. A stand-out moment comes when she breaks character and delivers a heart-wrenching rant about bureaucracy, highlighting the real people and humanity behind the cold-hearted processes and hoops to jump through – we are all captive to her raw rage.
Amanda Vilanova has the audience in stitches as Visa the cow – she is a master of comedy and we delight in her every “moove”! Suzy Kohane's performance as Benedict Bumbercatch is equally as hilarious, expertly playing the woke privileged sidekick in a way that is so utterly endearing to the entire audience. Though Vikash Bhai needs to relish the evil of Lord Villain a little more, his facial expressions are a piece of theatre all on their own! Gabriel Paul also portrays Constable John Constable with real talent – he perfectly understands the shifting tone of the piece, and delivers a touching song showing off his vocal and acting range with great success.
While development is certainly required to bring out this piece's full potential, The Foreigners' Panto really is a fabulous evening at the theatre with an important and timely message.
It runs at Bold Theatre (Elephant & Castle) until Saturday 28th October with a couple of relaxed and pay-what-you-can performances offered.
Review: Penny Lane