Oh, yes it is!

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am

With Christmas just around the corner, theatres are packed with festive shows. One of the longest established Christmas performances is the pantomime.

A longtime British tradition, local theatre group Hong Kong Players has staged a pantomime, or 'panto', every year in the city since 1961.

Panto is a family-friendly show, but it appeals to audiences of all ages with its sharp wit, familiar songs, energetic dances and slapstick jokes.

The audience is encouraged to participate by shouting out: 'Oh, yes it is!' to disagree with the characters, and 'It's behind you!' to warn them of any scary monsters. You can also cheer for the heroes and boo the villains.

The most amusing part of any panto is often the cross-dressing. Traditionally, the lead male role is played by a woman in shorts. And the character to get the biggest laughs is the panto dame - an absurdly overdressed woman played by a man in drag, or in the case of this year's Cinderella, two men.

If you think you know this fairy tale, think again. The familiar fable has been reinvented to cater to Hong Kong audiences and incorporate popular culture such as TV shows and celebrities, and current affairs such as the US presidential election.

American actor P. Adam Walsh, who is directing the panto this year, has had plenty of stage experience and even worked with veteran actor Tim Robbins' The Actors' Gang. This form of theatre is a new experience for him, but he's been converted to the genre.

'There's something in it for everyone,' he says. 'Older traditions fused with the new, jokes, songs, dance, shadow play, big, beautiful sets and costumes, bubbles, good versus evil, and a little bit of magic to boot!'

As well as the principal characters, Cinderella features a chorus of mostly secondary school students who are relishing the opportunity of working with a professional actor.

Susannah Lowe, 11, from West Island School, is enjoying her third panto alongside her brother and father. She says: 'I like the way Adam uses warm-up games to improve our performance.'

Kristin Curtis, 14, from Island School, adds: 'Adam helps us grow outside of our comfort zone and allows us to interpret our own ideas in helping with the pantomime.'

Chinese International School's Venetia Luise, 13, says: 'We run around a lot. It's very tiring, but a lot fun.'

King George V School's Penny Van de Ven thinks one of the most exciting aspects of the show is the chance to perform on a big stage.

But what's even more rewarding are the new and unexpected friendships that have developed between students from different schools.

Meg MacMahon, 12, from Kellett School, says: 'Most of us were a bit unsure in the first few weeks, but by about the sixth rehearsal we were all exchanging phone numbers.'

South Island Schooler Mojo Abidi, 12, admits the inevitable goodbyes are the toughest part of being involved in the production. But she'll see her new friends again: 'This has been so much fun - I am definitely going to audition next year!'

Cinderella: The Panto runs from December 4-7 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre