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A uniquely British form of musical stage comedy, the pantomime, is returning this fall to Bahrain at the Manama Theatre Club (MTC), with auditions scheduled this weekend for an unforgettable rendition of Beauty and the Beast.
The pantomime, affectionately also called “panto”, is a musical show, performed around Christmas, and based on popular fairy tales. It’s accompanied by overactive audience participation and usually a modern twist or two.
Its history traces back over a thousand years, depending on which theatre historian you talk to, but the first official pantomimes appeared in Britain during the early 18th century.
The hallmarks of pantomime remain consistent, even if the plots can sometimes take the audience in unexpected directions. The male and female leads are often played by members of the opposite gender, there is often a stage animal played by two or three actors, lots of slapstick and chase humour, a very obvious and evil villain and of course audience participation to yell “boo”, “ooh”, “aah”, “watch out behind you” and whatever else they feel is crucial to the on-stage actors to know.
For director Carrie Lunt-Bell, who has lived in Bahrain and been involved with the MTC for the past 12 years, a love of the community-based art form started during her stint in Mongolia. She and a group of drama enthusiasts decided to stage the first pantomime in the country. In Bahrain, she has previously directed the Robin Hood (2015) and Cinderella (2017) pantos.
Carrie said: “It is a community project. You get all ages joining in from small kids to grey haired adults and everyone has to get along. There is something fun and satisfying about all pulling together to put on some great entertainment for the community around the festivity season.
“It is always good to see the cast, some with no experience ever before, find more confidence and improve their skills over the two months of rehearsals. It is a big project bringing together as many as 60-65 people. Everyone is a volunteer – rehearsals are 2 to 3 times a week running up to whole afternoon dress rehearsals nearer the time. Then there is all the backstage work to get ready for the show. It is amazing how much time our volunteers put in – and the diverse talent they bring to the show.”
The auditions take place this Friday and Saturday at the British Club, with auditions for children aged eight to 15 held at 3pm and adult auditions will be at 5pm. These are open to non-British Club members as well and there are singing, non-singing and lots of backstage roles.
The show is set to be staged in early December.