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Posts Tagged ‘Kev Orkian’

This is the sort of show only Stratford East can do and it’s what they’ve always done. It’s in the spirit of Joan Littlewood – populist, irreverent, a little bit shocking, with an important message. You have to forgive its flaws because it’s heart is in the right place and its great fun.

David Baddiel has adapted his film of the same name and Erran Baron Cohen has provided the songs. It’s the story of a not particularly faithful Muslim minicab driver who discovers he was born Jewish and adopted by Muslims. He looks for his birth father who, as it happens, is dying and he’s not allowed to see him. He explores what it’s like to be Jewish with the help of his Jewish neighbour, a black cab driver. The mother of his son’s fiancée has just married a prominent Muslim fundamentalist who is about to visit to give his approval to the match, or not. This of course provides ample opportunity for comedy, a touch of farce and snipes at all things fundamental and bigoted.

The comedy is broad and the songs a touch music hall and it’s a shade too long, but it’s warm-hearted and great fun and the TRS audience lapped it up. It’s Book of Mormon Lite, more gentle (and very British) satire and a lot less cynical. It’s message seems to be that there’s either one god or no god and all the energy expended (and tragedies perpetrated) by those that think there’s more than one god and they are in conflict is preposterous. It’s a message most of us buy, though towards the end it’s delivered with a little too much heavy-handedness.

There’s a rough and readiness to Kerry Michael & David Baddiel’s staging which somehow suits the style of the piece. The performances are as broad as the comedy, which again suits the show. With just nine performers, a four-piece band and a relatively simple set (that relies on a lot of doors), it has a homespun feel in keeping with the venue and its audience. The excellent cast is led by the very impressive Kev Orkian (who I think I’ve only seen once before, when was the best thing about the Wimbledon panto with Dame Edna!) and their sense of fun was infectious.

You can nitpick as much as you like about this show, but it’s good fun, makes some important points with a light touch and provides good entertainment at ‘a people’s theatre’.

 

 

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I’ve seen most of Dame Edna’s London shows in the last 30 years and despite the disaster of the second and latest ‘Last Night of the Poms’, I couldn’t resist her panto debut – as fairy, rather than Dame! Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how cynical and exploitive commercial panto has become (and how they deteriorate during the run as everyone gets tired and fed up) having only visited panto heaven in Hackney & Stratford in recent years.

This was like a ‘mash-up’ of a bad Dame Edna show and a bad panto competing for which was worst. The panto won, but only just. Dame Edna’s fluffed lines and stumbling delivery suggest she’s probably past it, so maybe the Last Night of the Poms wasn’t a one-off after all. She did her usual ritual humiliation of an audience member and a smattering of risqué jokes and references but the attempts to integrate her into the show were limited and what we got was inferior Edna.

One-man panto production line Eric Potts (Diggory in Corrie!) wrote, directed and played Dame, so much of the blame must rest with him. It was apparently Dick Whittington, but you’d be forgiven for not realising this as there wasn’t much emphasis on story or plot. With the notable exception of Kev Orkian as Idle Jack, who was outstanding and the only one who seemed to be trying or even caring, the cast were irrelevant when Dame Edna was on and pretty dreadful when she wasn’t.

There were colourful sets and good costumes (well, for the panto Dame – Edna seemed to be recycling her old ones) but absolutely no true panto spirit (Idle Jack excepted). The songs were the usual current pop fare, there were nods to TV shows, lame local references and a 3D sequence (effective, but why include it?).  The romantic leads didn’t charm you (Sam Attwater and Anna Williamson – both awful), the baddie didn’t scare you (Richard Calkin – boo!), there weren’t enough ‘he’s behind you’s and no song sheet (though in the programme it says Scene 14: The Song Sheet’). It went on and on for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but felt longer.

In commercial pantos they rehash a story, borrow someone else’s tunes, find a few soap has-beens and b-list celebs and throw them together with little rehearsal. If you want to see a real panto, head east to Stratford or Hackney. Sorry, Wimbledon, you are about as far away from my view of ‘The Home of London Pantomime’ (their words) as it’s possible to be. Shameful.

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