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Review of Sinbad The Sailor at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Sinbad the Sailor at Theatre Royal Stratford East Michael Bertenshaw (Prince Naw-Ze Uzz) and Julian Capolei (Sinbad)
Sinbad the Sailor at Theatre Royal Stratford East Michael Bertenshaw (Prince Naw-Ze Uzz) and Julian Capolei (Sinbad) Credit Sharron Wallace

Sinbad the Sailor is this year’s offer from the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and just like the story, Kerry Michael’s production is quite far from what one might expect from a traditional pantomime.

Despite a wealth of energy pumped through all the performances, a bit of a messy opening in an attempt to set up the story contributes to the undetectable pantomime structure which this panto has failed to grasp in its recipe.

Rather than making use of glitter, bright colours and cartoon-esque imagery in the architecture of the set, designers Harriet Barsby and Jenny Tiramani instead decide to focus on animated projection, a large central revolving stage and smoky lighting to transfer the audience from one place to another; a particularly inventive moment is when 2D turns to 3D with a boat emerging from the projection on the curtain, as if coming out of the picture. Johnny Amobi (as our panto Nurse) appears in an orange jumpsuit, looking more ready for the school run than to apply any First Aid, and poor Rina Fatania (as the Green Genie Uz) is drowned in a green tent.

The script attempts to be topical, with our panto villain Prince Naw-Ze Uzz (Michael Bertenshaw) threatening to ‘build a wall and make them pay for it’ and claiming ‘the popular vote does not bother me’, but just how many Trump references is too many? Watch this panto to find out! The comedy is kept mostly to the visuals and actors themselves, with what feels like a lack of one-liners in the script, and the one-liners at hand delivered too quickly or quietly to notice. 

Bertenshaw’s villain doesn’t manage to get much booing until the audience can work out he’s the villain. He mumbles through his lines and doesn’t really get connected with the audience. He’s sort of like one of those teachers who tries to assert authority but just gets talked over all the time. Ben Goffe’s Sultan is frankly rather boring, and gains laughs through costume more than through the animated, rambling or comically pompous attributes that the Sultan could take on. The panto Dame should be the centre of attention; the authority on the stage, even when confronted with the pantomime villain. Yet Amobi blends in with the backdrops, trying too much to play the woman in his character, and missing out the essence of the man in the dress (or jumpsuit, in this case).

Alim Jayda and Josephine Melville (pirates, Captain Green Beard and Clanker) are joyous together. They start the pre-show with warming up the audience and maintain this energy throughout. Julian Capolei’s performance as Sinbad is friendly enough, but he isn’t given much of a chance to form that crucial pantomime bond with the audience, not really giving them any reason to root for him. 

Melville’s tap dance duet with Ben Goffe towards the end of the show is an absolute delight. But the real star of this pantomime is Fatania’s Green Genie. She is a complete bundle of fun from the moment she appears out of the bottle in a puff of smoke. Totally endearing, charming and incredibly entertaining, she is perhaps the only character who really makes her mark on the stage.

Pantomime is a recipe, that when strictly followed, can’t go too far wrong. Sinbad the Sailor is not necessarily the easiest option when putting on a pantomime, and TRSE haven’t really managed to make it work. The songs are mostly original with some lyric changes to recognisable numbers, but it’s really the randomness of the disco tunes and music of popular culture which we love to see in panto, that didn’t at all feature. A couple of laugh-out-load moments, the genius ‘merrier’ (Perrier) bottle set and even a monkey puppet, Funky (Gemma Salter), just didn’t quite do justice to the craft of the British panto.

And the less said about the teenager pulled up on stage for the bit where the Dame flirts with a man from the audience, the better! I think ‘inappropriate’ comes to mind as this young guy is made to twerk and flirt with someone old enough to be his mother.

2 gold stars

Review by Joseph Winer

Theatre Royal Stratford East presents SINBAD THE SAILOR
Book and Lyrics by Paul Sirett
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Nunes and Perry Melius
Director: Kerry Michael; Designers: Jenny Tiramani & Harriet Barsby;
Musical Director: Robert Hyman; Lighting Designer: David Plater; Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson
Special Effects: Scott Penrose
Read our exclusive interview with Julian Capolei

28th November 2016 – 21st January 2017
Press performances: 8, 9 or 10 December 7pm
Sinbad the Sailor by Paul Sirett. He directs Johnny Amobi (Nurse), Michael Bertenshaw (Prince Naw-Ze Uzz), Julian Capolei (Sinbad), Rina Fatania (Green Genie Uzz), Ben Goffe (Sultan), Alim Jayda (Captain Greenbeard), Josephine Melville (Clanker), Marianna Neofitou (Princess), Gemma Salter (Funky) and Gabby Wong (Sinbadda).
The production runs from 28 November, until 21 January, with press performances on 8, 9,10 December.
http://www.stratfordeast.com/

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