Chaos is what precedes the making of a pantomime: only its sheer scale is to blame. At The Little Theatre’s studio space — Cheriana, the 34-member strong cast of MIB: A Space Comet-y is scurrying between successive run-throughs, perfecting that last laugh, move and intonation while spaceships are being built from cardboard and a trusty tube of Anabond, by the crew not so far away. Director Krishnakumar Balasubramanian (KK) calls out for a “full run” and the cast quickly assembles armed with their various props: guns, pirate eyepatches, chef hats… the likes.
We are on Earth, where Momo has finally decided to profess his undying love for Mimi who confesses to being an alien, with a ‘stardust’ ring. Did you see that coming? No. The utter unpredictability of each scene is what drives the pantomime and its humour. Only a few minutes ago did Momo belt out a beautiful adapted rendition of Bruno Mars’ ‘Just the Way You Are’ as fellow actors from the scenes quickly transformed as background dancers. In another scene, Agent O and Agent K, accompanied by four interns (Men in Black) with uncanny coordination, spy on the proceedings on Earth and outer space.
It has been 27 years since Chennai got its annual pantomime. Over the decades, this pantomime has changed character — from being anglicised and remaining true to the UK-version of the format, it is now ridden with local pop culture references. This includes some Instagram trends too, sans any language barriers. It is KK’s ninth year as the director, and sci-fi is something that has always piqued his curiosity, as is evident from earlier productions by The Little Theatre like Atita, and pantomimes like Star Wars.
However, MIB…reaches beyond the sheen of sci-fi. The plot follows a delightful bunch of wacky characters — aliens and otherwise — who try to stop evil from getting its hands on a device called stardust, that was stolen many moons ago. The device is capable of great good or great evil.
KK says, “The one thing that struck me about MIB is the concept of aliens. Every time we think about aliens, we think about spaceships and creatures from another world. But I see this conflict between people who are perceived as different, and in today’s world , it becomes relevant to understand that differences are meant to be celebrated.” It is a pantomime at the end of it all and it needs to be wild, larger than life, and colourful. “In terms of production, we can get very creative about how we portray things on stage. We are also competing with a lot of special effects and digital interventions today, so it is a challenge for us to create an appealing mish-mash.”
The play has eliminated the idea of a chorus, and tries to find ways to make every character pertinent. With 45 children and 34 adults in the cast, it is no mean feat. “The panto caters to a very varied audience, both kids and adults on and off stage. So, we need visuals that are child-friendly, humorous, and with a narrative that has socio-political relevance,” adds KK. The fact that the pantomime at its fulcrum is a parody, also helps debunk sci-fi’s seeming seriousness.
This year, Cyclone Michaung threw a spanner in the works. “We truly believe that the show every year brings a lot of love and joy to the city, especially when things get really hard,” KK signs off.
From December 14, 15 (3pm) to 16, 17 (3pm and 7pm) at Anna Centenary Library auditorium, Kotturpuram. Tickets for ₹200 and ₹400 at thelittletheatre.explara.com.
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