Similar comedic strategies in 'Bashment' and 'Boonoonoonoos'
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Those who ask more of theatre than only entertainment will probably stay away from RBT Productions Limited's roots comedy, Bashment Granny 3, and the current Little Theatre Movement (LTM) pantomime, Princess Boonoonoonoos, a fantasy of the fairytale variety.
Bashment Granny 3, written by Paul O. Beale and directed by B.L. Allen, is playing Wednesdays to Sundays, Green Gables Theatre, Cargill Avenue.
Princess Boonoonoonoos, a musical with book and lyrics by Barbara Gloudon and music by Ian Hird and Grub Cooper, is playing on weekends at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew.
It is a given that both shows were produced to make money. That aside, it is clear from their make-up that they were staged primarily to entertain. Though the audiences they target are quite different - Bashment is for adults only, Boonoonoonoos is a children's show - the entertainment strategies used by their creators are remarkably similar.
The pantomime has composers of original songs, a mix of mento, reggae and jazz. One highly effective sound effect is that of a car (seen on stage) driving through busy streets.
Bashment Granny 3 had a selection of many popular tunes, mostly reggae (though the theme from The Pink Panther sneaks in on one occasion) played between scenes. Sound effects include a car driving and gunshots. The purpose is to keep audiences happy or excited.
The Princess Boonoonoonoos plot has two thread-thin storylines. One concerns the efforts of residents of Boonoonoonoos to get compensation from the very, very rich Mrs Boasie-Ann Nuffness, who lives in a big house on a hill with her two daughters, Pluralita and Nufeesha. The residents claim Mrs Nuffness caused them to lose money when she had the police shut down a celebration they had planned to honour schoolgirl Lovely's amazing examination success.
Mrs Nuffness was played by Sharon Edwards-Francis when I saw the show, Pluralita by Latoya Newman-Morris, Nufeesha by Cecelia McCarthy and Lovely by Antonette Perkins. Those actresses all have alternates.
The other storyline is about Mrs Nuffness' attempts to entice two visiting princes from the Kingdom of Wagga Wagga to marry her daughters. One prince, Wagga Wagga 2 (Shama Reid), is very stiff and wears a military uniform; the other prince, Chik the Vth, is so relaxed he slouches.
Gunman and thief
The Bashment story is about conman Half-a-Dawg (Junior Williams) trying to get back US$300,000 swindled from him by Bad Boy Trevor (Garfield Reid) in the original Bashment Granny. By a stroke of luck, in Bashment Granny 2, Shebada (Keith Ramsay) and Mr Bashy (Trevor's now-deceased father, with whose nine-night celebrations the play begins) inherited the money.
Those who have the money want to hold on to it, everyone else wants it. Bashment Granny 3 include the late Bashy's Pretty P (Terri Salmon); Simone (Monique Ellis), Half a Dawg's woman; and the corrupt Lawyer Bertram (Luke Ellington).
The storylines of both scripts weakly link the scenes and provide support for the characters. It is in the characters, not the plot (defined as "the incidents in a story juxtaposed for maximum dramatic effect"), that the fun lies.
It is pity that a particular major comic character in each play is not more closely tied to the main story. Shebada is the main draw to Bashment Granny 3, yet he is only tangential to the struggle for money between conman Half a Dawg and gunman Bad Boy Trevor. In Princess Boonoonoonoos, the giant hyperactive rat, Rattus (excellently played by Derrick Clarke when I saw the production), is not involved with either of the two storylines.
He is basically a comic chorus to the main action.
When a major character in your play is irrelevant to the storyline, something is fundamentally wrong with the writing. Those who go to the theatre just for laughs wouldn't care about that, of course, but for the long-term health of our theatre, we need to nurture audiences who are more sophisticated than that.
As their names suggest, many of the characters are farcical and they are rightly played in an over-the-top manner. The on-the-floor tantrum that the Nuffness sisters throw as they insist that their mother find them princes to marry is very similar to the unrestrained cow-bawling that Shebada indulges in at Bashy's wake.
The scenes evoke laughter from audience members who like slapstick humour, more predominantly at Bashment Granny 3 than at Princess Boonoonoonoos. I'm not sure if that will be good news to the LTM, whose audiences have been declining in recent years.
The costumes on both shows help keep the mood light. As usual, in colour and cut, the pantomime's costumes (by Anya Gloudon-Nelson) are a joy to behold. This.is whether they are realistic or, as with Rattus, who sports a bulky grey body suit and a long tail, stylised. Bashment's costumes are mostly realistic but, for a few minutes, Shebada, as Crashment Granny, wears overstuffed underwear and a grotesque rubber mask as the female character jogs on and off the stage.
Other sophisticated elements of the Princess Boonoonoonoos production are Michael McDonald's textured, varied lighting and Michael Lorde's many gorgeous sets. Both complement the costumes. Bashment's simple set of painted flats with doors and windows, along with lighting for illumination purposes only. hark back to the early days of roots plays.
Both plays have unsatisfactory endings. It is then we expect the playwright to underline his/her message, but Bashment ends in a gunshot-filled cliffhanger, suggesting there will be a Bashment Granny 4. For no clear reason, the 'villain' of Princess B, the snobbish Mrs Nuffness, suddenly hands over the cheque the Boonoonoonoos residents had wanted and joins them in celebrating Lovely's accomplishment.
She had passed 30 subjects.