Pantomime is a Christmas tradition. Oh no, it isn’t! Oh yes, it is! In Gibraltar, it isn’t! In fact, in Gibraltar it has become the prescribed remedy against the January blues and a warm-up to Carnival masquerade balls.
This year, Gib panto season will start on the bluest day of the year, the 25th January, and will continue until Saturday 3rd February, including the usual weekend matinees to accommodate the youngest spectators. A sneaky preview is being afforded earlier in the month, when amateur drama company Trafalgar Theatre Group is participating in the Three Kings’ Cavalcade with a walking float, as they did last year. This was one of the innovations introduced by first-time director and experienced comedienne Nadine Gonzalez: “We didn’t enter the Cavalcade only to promote ourselves, but also because the junior cast looked forward to dressing up and supporting the event.” Nadine had just succeeded veteran director Margaret Seed, over the years credited for developing the format that has introduced pantomime as a staple event in the Gibraltarian calendar.
Now, the panto circus is ready to overcome any growing pains: “Last year at my solo debut, after having co-directed with Margaret in 2016, I was concerned that hers were too big shoes to fill for me and I would let the cast or the audience down, until I realised how strong their support was and how hard the cast worked towards running everything smoothly, so this year I am more relaxed in that respect, confident I can count on cast and crew rallying around each other and me. However, I believe that they now have higher expectations having seen what we can do together, while last year they were being nice, patient and empathic to my plight.”
If the audience may not care about whom the director is as long as the production is enjoyable, the TTG committee retains only the directors the cast is happy with, not to risk that auditions are deserted by perspective performers: judging by sheer numbers involved in this production, Nadine surely struck a chord with the group diehards, as well as a couple of new faces that the audience will be intrigued to see somehow cast against type, and the usual baddies they will love to hate.
Radio presenter and seasoned actress Harriet Seed is donning the velvety robes of the wicked witch, namely Gothel, Rapunzel’s mother. Of course I did tell you that this year’s pantomime is about Rapunzel, didn’t I? O no, I didn’t! Well I am telling you now: its full title is in fact ‘Rapunzel: a tangled panto’, loosely inspired by the Disney version of the story.
“We don’t ‘Disneyfy’ our productions, but we find that any fairytale made into a Disney film tends to be more popular with young children. Furthermore, we’d never done Rapunzel before, and I liked the script for being current, with gags that can be well adapted to Gibraltarian ambientation, and room for chart-topping pop songs with their lyrics tweaked to fit the plot,” the director explains.
The biggest novelty is the casting of a new Dame donning outrageously garish gowns and not mincing the double entendres out of his big lipstick-smeared mouth: Mark Dallison, a relative newcomer to local drama who has already established himself as a talented comedian (especially in villain roles, which he confesses he enjoys the most) is now switching to the bright side. Being so tall and slender, Nadine promises he will have to puff up with over-frilled frocks under the watchful eye of wardrobe mistress Pat Borda.
Rosalind Rogers, who was Tinkerbelle in the Peter Pan production a few years ago, stars this time in the title role – actually co-starring with her one-metre-and-a-half long blonde wig. Thus wig was one of the first props ordered, so that they could rehearse with it as if it was an extra cast member, making sure nobody stepped on it, and it didn’t slap anyone in the face when Rapunzel turned her head, unless purposely so. “There’s plenty we can do with it: plait it, let it flow to the floor, braid it, and dangle it from the window…” Nadine says.
Steve Lawson, another pantomime staple having delivered several savoury characters in the past, is stepping backstage to design and build the sets as well as to fill the all-important part of stage manager. He will be supervising everyone’s whereabouts and scouting and providing every prop imaginable, from gem-studded crowns to hankies when the inevitable happy ending draws a tear or two.
“All cast and all crew roles are equally important in our group, so just because someone is not on stage it doesn’t mean they are not shining,” Nadine explains. “As a theatre group we disclaim the concept that crew are not stars, because they are essential to the success of those who are. For example, just imagine how drab the show would be if actors burst on stage in street clothes, hadn’t the costume designers contributed! I also tend to cast one person in one role, so they can focus on it and give their best to it. I like to stick to my director’s chair and although I was on stage in the past, I don’t think I would be able to give the best of myself if I were to direct myself.”
A great addition to the cast is Samantha Barass playing the part of the Prince. Having rocketed to fame in serious roles, Samantha shed her gravitas last year and made a whirlwind appearance as the wonky newshound in star-shaped shades and trench-coat, a teaser prelude to this year’s larger-than-life stage presence. “Samantha is a great actress and she would ace any part, but this time the Prince felt right for her,” Nadine says.
The cast is completed by Tony Jurado playing the royal gopher; sidekicks Lina Tonnassen and Ed Lawson; not one, but three fairies, Kerry Marriott, Jolene Gonzalez and Trisha Wood, newcomer to the TTG; Karim Corby as the King and Karen Lawson as the Queen.
Children’s rehearsals are held on Saturday mornings: “Kids are fast learners and it is a pleasure to teach them. I was away for two consecutive Saturdays for personal reasons, so Harriet and choreographer Kathryn Parker took over and when I returned the following week, the chorus had already learnt three dance routines just like that!” Nadine snaps her fingers. “We accept all children from the age of eight, as long as they are willing to be part of it.”
With the support of her family, Nadine has lived and breathed theatre since she was a teenager. Now her two sons are following her footsteps, if not treading the boards, at least in the tech department, and her husband on hand backstage. Rehearsals started in September: “One doesn’t realise how much time it takes to stage a panto until it is over, but soon after that, I am already planning ahead for the following year, reading through scripts and testing the waters for auditions. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Shows are on Thursday to Saturday (25th-28th January and 1st-4th February) at 7.30pm at the Ince’s Hall, with matinees at the weekends. Tickets can be booked with cast members, liking the TTG Facebook page, or at the theatre box office closer to the date.