In it for the laughter

In it for the laughter

This year's panto, Robin Hood, promises fun for everyone, on and off-stage

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From back: Alex Sommerville, Rob Wellington, Ella Nowroz, Jasmine Hadiwibawa, Timothy Brodhage, Patrick McCool.
From back: Alex Sommerville, Rob Wellington, Ella Nowroz, Jasmine Hadiwibawa, Timothy Brodhage, Patrick McCool.
Photo: Hong Kong Players
Spiderman! SPIDERMAN! Come on Beyonce, BEYONCE!" shouts a woman in front of me.

No, it's not Comicon, but a rehearsal studio in Diamond Hill. The woman is choreographer Mandy Petty and she is giving these unusual instructions to the teenage chorus belting out the Queen classic, Don't Stop Me Now. They're rehearsing Robin Hood - The Panto, Hong Kong Players' musical extravaganza that opens Saturday.

"Giving the dance moves unusual names helps the chorus to remember," laughs Petty, " although I do throw in the occasional pas de bourree - keeps them on their toes, literally!"

The chorus, who this year range from 11 to 18, are the "glue" in panto - a traditional Christmas show - backing the madcap antics of the lead characters.

While the tradition of panto may have been around for centuries, the experience is brand new for some of this year's chorus. Jasmine Hadiwibawa, 13, of St Stephen's College is a ballet student and had performed in High School Musical - so what got her into panto?

"Actually, I was reading Young Post during the summer," she laughs, "and it said HK Players was holding auditions for its pantomime. I realised it was a perfect chance to broaden my performing horizons and signed up to audition."

And what does she think of it so far? "I love it! Panto is really different from ballet because you get to express yourself in multiple ways."

Two other panto first-timers are Patrick McCool, 12, of West Island School and Timothy Brodhage, 14, of German Swiss International School. Patrick has been doing theatre since he was five, and says the biggest challenges in Robin Hood are "learning the dance moves, and singing and dancing at the same time."

Timothy auditioned after being bowled over by Players' production of Pirates of the Panto last year. "I loved it so much I wanted to be a part of this year's show. I'd advise anyone to try it - just be prepared to have a lot of fun."

Island Schooler Ella Nowroz, 14, is a panto veteran, having already done two, and she loves the moment when the show finally goes in front of a live audience. "After months of rehearsal, it's great to get the audience reaction - and since in panto the audience is encouraged to interact, the reaction is always really enthusiastic."

Ella's first panto encounter was in 2008 when she auditioned for Cinderella. "I was thrilled to learn I'd got in, but soon found out I wasn't the only one celebrating. When I got to rehearsal, I was surprised to see my teacher Alex Sommerville in the cast, too!"

Sommerville was a henchman then, and has since relished playing dastardly panto villains Abanazer and Captain Walker D. Plank. "This year will be the first time I play a good guy - Little John." As for why he keeps coming back: "Great cast, great fun, stage fighting ... and best of all this year I have the thrill of being on stage with my daughter Hana, who is in the chorus for the first time."

Sommerville has handed over the villain's reins to another teacher, Rob Wellington, who teaches chemistry at Chinese International School and who used to do panto in his native New Zealand. "I play the Sheriff of Nottingham and it's great to be such an over-the-top evil character. I want the audience - especially my Year 13s - to boo him and HATE him ... but remember it's all make-believe!"

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