Theatre Review: Janice Honeyman’s Adventures In Pantoland – Fused Fairytales, Or Joie De Vivid

November 22, 2022




Janice Honeyman’s Adventures In Pantoland / Directed by Janice Honeyman / The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


For the occasion of Joburg Theatre’s 60th anniversary (and, remarkably, executive producer Bernard Jay’s 60th year in showbiz), writer-director Janice Honeyman decided to not simply ramp up one of the traditional fairytale themes that get regularly reimagined in this genre. Instead, she’s mashed a number of them together – Aladdin, Snow White, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Jack & The Beanstalk, Cinderella and just a smidge of Pinocchio – to come up with a story that that has its fair share of holes (hey, nobody was expecting a documentary), but which fills them with bright colours, cheerful tunes, energetic ensemble choreography and enough current affairs references and cheesy gags to ensure consistent laughs, both cynical and breezy.

There are a lot of moving parts and as much expertise involved in making such a production run smoothly, but arguably the strongest part of the platform here is the level of talent involved. The ensemble includes super-capable leads (in other contexts) such as Donavan Yaards and Louise Duhain, while the leads and second leads here are a storied lot including Carmen Pretorius, Brenda Radloff, Ben Voss, Justin Swartz, Didintle Khunou, Ilse Klink, Michelle Botha, Grant Towers, Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala and Kensiwe Tshabalala. That’s plenty of star power, but this is a cast that seems to have the greater good at heart, so nobody chews the scenery more than they should, regardless of how tempting that might be in a context in which you’re expected to go as far over the top as is vaguely sensible.

As it happens, chewing the scenery would be a risky choice, as the bulk of it is electronic – giant screens that depict Happyville and Hateville (the good and the bad places, unsurprisingly) and all the places that the characters visit on their journeys from chapter to chapter in the story. This includes, among other places, the ocean, dark caves, forests, outer space and the villains’ den (the décor of which includes an ‘Employee of the Month’ picture of Honeyman, complete with scribbled-on devil’s horns), all presented with eye-watering vividness.

It’s an approach that allows for a level of detail (the shadows of ‘people’ moving about in shops, for instance) that wouldn’t be possible with painted, static sets, but it does detract from some of the traditional visual appeal of the classic pantomime, where much of the story relies on the imagination of the audience, as a result of which what was being staged would affect every onlooker in a slightly different way.

The cast is strong across the board, but a few actors deserve mentions for standout performances. Pretorius, as Princess Aurora, makes everything – singing, dancing, acting – look ridiculously easy. Swartz, as Jack, oozes charm and confidence. Botha is brash and hilarious as Nursey Nora; the gentle, kind Radloff has a ball playing against type as a wicked queen; and Voss once again excels (there is nobody more expressive on stage) as Abanazar. Elsewhere, a couple of thick but uneven accents – someone seems to have Scots-Greek heritage at one point, and it’s not pretty – upset the balance somewhat, but not so badly that the plot gets derailed.

More than anything, the remnant of the show as you leave is delight, just joy that you’ve enjoyed a couple of hours of happy, silly, giggly, daftness – a welcome respite from everything that causes stress outside of the theatre walls. And that alone is worth the ticket price.