Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomime, and, despite the obvious differences, you don’t get a more traditional panto than Dick Whittington Goes Bollywood. There’s a dame, a fairy godmother – albeit a green, four-armed one, an evilly be-whiskered baddie, a helpless maiden and, of course, Puss. Please Note – Dick is going Bollywood, not going to Bollywood – as always he is off to good old London Town to make his fortune and become the Lord Mayor.
Dick – actually Dikra, played with wide eyed innocence and biro moustache by Krupa Pattani – is a Gujarati from Bradford, on his way to London with his spice box, to bring the magic of Gujarati cuisine to the Punjabi dominated Asian restaurant scene. The only questions are how, and where? “Tooting? Too high-falutin’!” On his way he makes a new best pal in Billi, the ever-smiling Gujarati cat who is the scourge of rats everywhere. Everything seems to be going to plan; that is until he falls in love with the beautiful Alice.
Alice of course loves him right back, but to marry her he must first win over her father, the King Rat, Sir Rattan Singh Chuaa. More British than the British in frock-coat and one cricket pad, Sir Rattan dreams of casting off his Punjabi roots and becoming Lord Mayor of London, and having his daughter marry an impoverished, lowly Gujarati does not feature in his plans, as he informs us in song, whilst grimly stroking one of the many rats he has stashed around his person.
Fortunately Dick has allies; the fabulously camp dame/ cook Makhauni Kaun – Antony Bunsee in a fat suit, aprons with tardis pockets, a towering wig and Pat Butcher earrings – instantly falls for Billi’s feline charms. Not forgetting the frightfully jolly hockey sticks fairy godmother who also stars as Dick’s rich employer the sheik – Abu Dhabi style! The usual chaos ensues; the lady is lost and won, Dick is betrayed then redeemed, and everybody ends up happy and in love.
Considering the amount of physical action taking place on the tiny stage as well as the voluminous costumes, it is amazing nobody gets tangled up with anybody else, but the whole thing is so beautifully and smoothly choreographed the mere idea is unthinkable. The music, provided by a small band permanently at the back of the stage is catchy and hummable, the many songs all performed by the very talented Sohini Alam while the cast mime dramatically, in true Bollywood fashion.
The script is pure pantomime genius, with puns galore and many current cultural references – both British and Asian – which will make you laugh and groan in equal measure. Audience participation is practically mandatory – given the tiny size of the theatre, you are sure to be spotted if you omit to hiss as instructed – and even involves holding up the set at one point. Everyone got into the spirit and booed and yelled with gusto. The actors deliver their corny lines with glee and devilment, and at all times appear to be having just as much fun as the audience. The jokes for the most part are family friendly – it wasn’t their fault after all that the audience rolled about laughing every time anyone said the word “Dick.”
Apparently there are big plans afoot for the development of the tiny Tara Theatre, and having seen what that superbly talented cast and crew can achieve on a stage the size of a shoebox, I would very much like to see what dizzy heights they could reach together in a larger forum. This was true, old fashioned entertainment at its best, and as the lady in front of me said at the end: “Right. I feel ready for Christmas now.”