A pantomime is a peculiar form of musical theatre that gets staged as part of pre-Christmas festivities.
It is a tradition that the British are particularly fond of performing, especially when they have got children at home for the holidays and need to be entertained in the most light-hearted and fanciful way.
Pantomimes have specific rules that define the genre.
For instance, it is meant to be slapstick comedy that is silly in a way that small children can find fun and enchanting at the same time.
Children are the primary audience of pantomime, although adults who appreciate the tradition tend to adore silly jokes, puns, and double entendre.
Pantos can also feature word games such as those we saw last weekend when Braeburn Players staged Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates at Braeburn Theatre on Gitanga Road, Nairobi.
In keeping with tradition, ‘Crusoe’ followed all the rules of the genre, an important one being that it must be interactive and participatory.
The best character to ensure those things happened was Nutty Nick (Daniel Lee Hird). He was not only the happiest and most hilarious jumping-jack man, but he was also the most enthusiastic engager of the children who filled the audience last Sunday afternoon.
He managed to turn them all into watchdogs ready to sound a shouting alarm the moment anyone went near his bag of nuts, and of course, many characters did.
Some were pirates, but anyone who made a move towards his precious nuts got called out by an audience fully engaged in Nutty Nick’s energetic escapades.
Like a pied piper, he even managed to call them all to come up on stage, since his ship had ‘landed’ in Mombasa on its way back to Brazil where he lived with his mother, Margarita Juicilita (James Campbell).
For Margarita to be played by a man was in keeping with the rules. This one relates to a gender role reversal whereby a man must play a female lead and a female must perform as a man.
Again, it is just for fun and a way of making the show seem sillier and more slapstick. Margarita herself is a big ‘girl’, a lady with a bright orange-braided wig and buxom body who ends up marrying Captain Sea Salt (Terry Childs).
But all that comes after the Captain’s first ship gets wrecked and he needs a new crew to get going on his planned voyage.
That is how Nutty Nick gets a job joining the new crew as does his mum, serving as the ship’s new cook.
The other side of the gender role reversal was taken over by Robinson Crusoe him/herself. He was played by the lovely and light-footed Rotem Yaniv-Cohen who was in love with the Captain’s daughter, Juanita (Mariam Mohiddin-Jones).
He joins the Captain’s crew as a way of proving to the dad that he is worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage.
But before that could happen, his ship had to get shipwrecked and he get stranded on a tropical island for many days.
The story that unfolds in the pantomime runs loosely along the same line as the Daniel Defoe novel of 1719 which portrays Crusoe as a British colonial for whom the world is probably part of his British empire.
Certainly, the panto itself reflects a heap of colonial attitudes that need not be cataloged.
And yet, the tropical islands are filled with dancing natives, witch doctors, and cannibals who we are fortunate not to see on stage — only in the book that was initially believed to be autobiographical.
One other rule of pantomime is that the costuming must be colourful and ‘eccentric’.
The costumes are superb, especially the ones worn by the teams of dancers who wore everything from grass skirts to matching kitenge.
The multiple backdrops by Taryn Bebbington and set designs generated by Jenny Childs and her team were also colourful, beautifully painted, and well-designed.
But probably the most important rule that Crusoe followed was its storyline being based on the basic bad guys versus good.
The baddies included Davy Jones (Chris Childs) who aimed to put Robinson inside his under-water locker and leave him there, and the ruthless pirate, Cut-Throat (Richard Hooper) who was out to find the mysterious treasure using the map drafted by Margarita’s late spouse.
Naturally, it is the good guys who prevail. They find the treasure, Crusoe wins Juanita’s hand, and they live happily ever after, like in every good fairy tale.