Given its nature, the Improvised Panto, performed by ITSA Theatre Company, is very much a hit or miss affair. The cast of five, who play myriad roles, are dependent on the audience to decide which pantomime they’re going to stage each night. Last Saturday, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was the most popular choice. The audience also gets to cast the show.
While there was plenty of interaction with the audience, it was a disappointing show compared to previous years. With no set and no script, this type of show depends on razor sharp wit and an ability to drive the plot, such as it is. But the cast came across as undisciplined and far too free-flowing to make any kind of sense within the parameters of this familiar tale.
Not that they are required to stick rigidly to the story. But there were times when it looked like the cast were going through the motions with their bad made-up songs which didn’t even rhyme and didn’t always drive the plot. This show lacked even a modicum of rigour. It seemed as if the main aim was to wear every available costume in the theatre, from a court jester’s outfit to that of the grim reaper who hovered around Jack’s ailing grandmother.
Ciarán Bermingham played the cow, complete with a fluffy black and white body suit. He was his usual funny self. Laura Harte was also strong in her role of a rough Dublin-accented landlord threatening to evict Jack and his impoverished hairdresser mother.
In this show, the cow is a good friend of Jack. But Jack has to sell him at the mart. When Jack comes home with a bag of beans, his mother is enraged. The beans grow into an unseen massive male appendage as opposed to a beanstalk. This cued some smutty comments but overall, the show was quite clean.
It had its moments of hilarity but in the second act it tapered off with the actors concluding the story amid the madness.
Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu is that great big book which all members of the self-styled cognoscenti are supposed to read at some point, but which few ever do. Bush Moukarzel’s show condenses Proust to an hour but wisely doesn’t aim for fidelity. Rather, his show is a meditation upon those themes that it has become commonplace to call ‘Proustian’ — the mystery and the melancholy of time and memory, the madness of desire, and the revelatory experience of inertia.
Alighting on sections from the book, Moukarzel channels the guts of Proust’s drama, while blurring the lines with his own life in the here and now. A scene unfolds in a nightclub blaring hip-hop, while there are references to McDonalds packaging and a cover of Bruce Springsteen. This playing with time couldn’t be more apt, but the vignettes are only fitfully amusing.
More rewarding is the thoughtfulness at the core of the piece. Among a number of knowing references, Moukarzel quotes Walter Benjamin’s observation that ‘none of us has the time to live the true dramas of the life that we are destined for,’ and it’s this sense of our being at a remove from the experience of our own lives that Moukarzel at times very vividly brings to the fore, largely through a provocative set design and a host of props, among them 3D view-masters and a goldfish fated to an uncertain end.
Despite a number of moments of great wit and invention, including a wonderful climax and some good gags involving the ingesting of Class A madeleines, there is something dissatisfying about the piece. The good ideas at its heart deserve to be serviced better and the closing message to ‘remember the present’ is a little platitudinous.