High seas antics hilarious, serious

Actor Zak Enayat performs in the children’s pantomime Commander Claire and the Pirates of...
Actor Zak Enayat performs in the children’s pantomime Commander Claire and the Pirates of Provence at Mayfair Theatre yesterday, as part of Arts Festival Dunedin. Photos: Gerard O'Brien.

Commander Claire and the Pirates of Provence and
The Complete History of the Royal NZ Navy
Mayfair Theatre
Friday, September 30

Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman

Like most New Zealanders, I was totally unaware that our Royal Navy is now 75 years in existence, but I attended two festival events in the Mayfair Theatre yesterday and became nautically enlightened, both historically and hysterically. 

A big audience of enthusiastic children and grandparents on holiday duty added vocal support in true panto style for Commander Claire and the Pirates of Provence, a fast-paced children’s pantomime that swamped the audience with high-seas adventures, or, more correctly, around the coast of New Zealand. 

Devised by Gregory Cooper with direction by Mark Hadlow, the cast of three  (Olivia Hadlow, Zak Enayak  and Andy Sophocleous) brought their fictional characters to life with great energy and timing, as a pirate descendant of the early French explorers who were beaten to NZ by the English set out to redeem his name by attaching cables to our islands for towing to France.

Young and old watch the free Arts Festival Dunedin pantomime Commander Claire and the Pirates of...
Young and old watch the free Arts Festival Dunedin pantomime Commander Claire and the Pirates of Provence at the Mayfair Theatre yesterday.
The Pirate Captain with his French accent, evil laugh and Napoleon, a red rooster puppet (who chundered over the poop-deck!), were eventually outwitted by Captain Claire with the help of her bulldog puppet named P. J. (Pelorus Jack), whose savage bite to unmentionable areas was a winner.

A very workable set, good costuming, clear diction and sound effects added to an overall entertaining show. 

The evening show, The Complete History of the Royal NZ Navy, also the work of Cooper and Hadlow and using the same set, was equally well staged as a "grown-up" script presented seven decades of NZ Navy in an outstanding satirical review.

Comical and exceedingly clever, a chronological account of naval history was dealt out in text, rhyming couplets and patter song by a very talented cast (Kathleen Burns, Gregory Cooper, Semu Filipo and Andrew Ford), as specifications of various ships and historical tales of naval battles and events were related with extremely fast and exacting hilarious patter.

There were so many highlights — the excellent German-accented dialogue in a torpedo U-boat scene, a detailed enactment of the river Plate, anti-Aussie jokes  and an HMNZ Philomel cameo that climaxed with details set to Greased Lightning  in an impressive vocal quartet.

Political innuendos included various NZ flag options, reference to French nuclear tests in the Pacific, Rainbow Warrior, saving the orange roughy  fishing beds — all poetically narrated with "serious" authenticity.

Audience participation included singing Have a Tot, Tot, Tot  (of rum), and plenty of music hall-style spontaneous reaction to the appearance of prompt signs.

A very moving scene came with a navy flag-folding ceremony to the recorded choral singing of For Those in Peril on the Sea, bringing home the serious and tragic aspect of warships and naval history. 

The last of the hour-and-twenty-minute show comprised an effectively spoofed This is Your Life, which included an absolute vocal high spot from Burns, She knows all the Ships, Man, listing all the ships’ names to the tune of I’ve Been Everywhere, Man.

Really great entertainment, especially the evening performance, which received a standing ovation and is well worthy of recording for TV.

These performances are repeated today.

(Commander Claire performances are free.)  



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