Shiver me floorboards

Karly Cox

Lily-livered landlubbers should head to the theatre - or prepare to walk the plank

Karly Cox |

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The Pirates of the Panto, with Stefan and Aidan in the centre, coming soon to a stage near you
Once upon a panto, the group that would become Hong Kong Players performed Jack and the Beanstalk, the first of what they hoped would be a long line of pantomimes. Fifty pantos later, the group is still going strong. Yet instead of performing a traditional story such as Jack, last year's Aladdin or an everyone's-favourite-fairy-tale, this year they've gone for something a little more, well, piratey.

"Everybody loves pirates - especially since Johnny Depp's star turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, so we thought it was time," say co-writers Teri Fitsell and Stephen Bolton. "But when we read scripts for Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, which are the usual pirate pantos, we thought they were a bit boring. So we came up with our own story."

With inspirations ranging from "Sesame Street to Eddie Izzard, with Family Guy ... and even Priscilla Queen of the Desert mixed in", the new Pirates of the Panto drew a high number of boys to audition for parts. The result is "a fine gang of pirate lads," the writers say.

Although many guys see theatre as more of a girls' thing, Hamish Campbell isn't one of them - Pirates is his fifth panto. He's finally playing the "Buttons" character, "after five years of secretly wanting it.

"Trust me on this, there's nothing cooler or more fun than being in a show," the 19-year-old says. "Learning the songs and dances is great. There's the thrill of being on stage. And you meet loads of people of all ages and nationalities."

And if that doesn't inspire guys to change their minds, Campbell adds: "How shall I put this: girls love theatre!"

Panto allows students to bridge the inter-school gap. Two of the teen pirates have not only made new friends but also learned a lot in the process.

Aidan McCarthy, 16, who goes to Australian International School, says: "I've learned about working with a group of highly amusing actors, in not so serious conditions".

GSIS student Stefan Nigam, who turns 18 during the run, is an aspiring professional actor. He says there is "no better way to wake up" than being at a Saturday morning rehearsal. But he is looking forward to "finally being on stage, after months of rehearsal," he says. "It's an indescribable feeling - especially with an audience who are enjoying themselves!"

While it's often said that all cast members are equally important, no matter how small their roles, both shipmates admit they have learned the most from the Dame character. An essential part of any panto, the Dame is a female character, often the hero's mother, who is played by a man dressed as a woman; in this case, it's panto veteran Terry Hart.

"Terry, with his complete confidence in himself [as] the dame, along with his fantastic skill and attitude, makes him ... an awesome role model," Stefan says. Aidan adds: "Keeping a straight face and looking mean is incredibly hard while Terry is doing everything possible to make you laugh. He makes the show even more enjoyable - and not just for the audience!"

Panto may be a British tradition, but Fitsell, a Brit, and Bolton, a Canadian who also directs the show, are quick to point out that everyone can enjoy the festive fun. "The mix of slapstick humour, topical jokes, and [music] crosses boundaries," they say. "Plus it's the only form of theatre where you're actually expected to shout out, boo the baddies, cheer the goodies and sing along!"

The panto is showing at Hong Kong Arts Centre, on Dec 4 and 5, and 9-12. Tickets from Urbtix