While some of us may be already looking back thinking ‘What have I done with my life?’ as the end of the year countdown spirals downwards, take comfort as the end of the year also brings along happiness and cheer in the form of a little wooden toy. Pinocchio, to be exact, in the year’s annual pantomime at Joburg Theatre.
I had an amazing opportunity to sit down and chat to some of the cast members during their intense but exciting rehearsals in preparation for opening on the 12th of November 2017. Backstage of the main theatre at Joburg Theatre among some of the props, stage markings and musical instruments, I can’t help but feel impacted by the high spirits, excitement and magic that surrounds Janice Honeyman’s pantomime every year.
I was joined by Panto and theatre veteran, Tobie Conjé who plays the role of Geppetto, who was also part of the original Pinocchio, which was staged in 2009. André Schwartz and Chi Mhende, who are two of the villians, Il Fortunato the Fox and Pussy Galore the cat. Dolly Louw, who plays Pinocchio’s ‘dollfriend’, Dolly. And of course, our female ‘principal boy’ Kanyi Nokwe who plays Pinocchio – a definite new spin on the classic.
Taking a peak behind the scenes into the actual rehearsal process, Chi Mhende confesses that she was dying to work with Janice Honeyman; a director who welcomes offers from the cast in molding and shaping the play. “She’s so open to changes. So we, the cast, are used to bringing ideas,” says Tobie Conjé. And although the cast has just a few weeks to rehearse, André Schwartz says the rehearsal process is fun and creative, adding “It becomes a little bit addictive. And showbiz is hectic. Nine shows a week is a lot. So on Sunday evenings one does tend to feel little wasted.” Of course referring to the intoxicating feeling of performing in front of a live audience.
This live audience is new and different each night, and because the pantomime relies so much on the audience’s interaction, both non-verbal and verbal, Janice Honeyman prepares her cast to handle any situation so that they feel safe and comfortable. As Schwartz tells us, “It’s so unpredictable. You have the kids responding in one way and the adults in another. But it really, really is lovely.” Louw echoes his words, and referring to Honeyman says, “She’s done so many Pantos so through her experience she knows the tricks. You’re never caught really by surprise, and whenever it is a surprise it’s always so pleasant.” Like most Pantomime’s, the story of Pinocchio is about the fight between good and evil. Cronjé explains that, “It’s the story of Pinocchio and he has to go through being seduced by the evil ones, and he has to learn which is the right way to live.” He also adds that he hopes the audience will BOO Chi Mhende’s villainous character. I’ll be interested to see what happens, because with kids these days, you just never know!
I remember my first pantomime, just a few years ago, where there was something about the entire production that was extremely captivating and thrilling. There is definitely something about the pantomime that is magical, almost intangible. “The child spirit in us, as adults, never dies,” says our Pinocchio, Kanyi Nokwe, “But seeing that [magic] come out in a child when they see a Panto for the first time, or you witness it sitting in the pews watching the show, is really the essence of the show. That’s where the magic lies, in making children know that magic lives.” As much as they work very hard behind the scenes, Kanyi also says that the cast themselves also feel this magic as they rehearse and perform, and that standing on stage and seeing the look on the children’s faces, or even the adult’s faces makes it all worth it. Louw says that with the Pantomime, children and adults can understand and appreciate the performance on different levels. She says, “Although most of [The Pantos] are derived from fairytales or stories, adults get involved as well. You know, satire, jokes… whatever’s current, whatever is in our news, whatever’s hip, or even old school for that matter.” For Mhende, being a part of the pantomime allows her to break the fourth wall and as the villain, she really gets the opportunity to be up close and personal with the audience. (You have been warned!)
Of course I had to try squeeze out some secrets; a little something to look forward to in this year’s pantomime. And although the other cast members’ lips were sealed, André Schwartz did tell me there may or may not be a train on stage that takes the kids to Candy Land. Mmm… guess you’ll definitely have to book your tickets for Pinocchio SA to find out more!
To book your tickets visit www.joburgtheatre.com, or call 0861 670 670. You can also book via the Nedbanl app, or at selected Pick ‘n Pay stores via Webtickets.
Images by Mariola Biela.
To see a glimpse into the fun I had with some of the cast, watch the video below: