‘Pantomime? It’s harder to learn than Beckett’
Love it or loathe it, panto takes huge effort. For Twink, 38 shows in a fortnight mean there’s no time to lose in the rehearsal room
What fresh hell is this?: Twink at rehearsal with her dog, Teddy Bear. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Rehearsal rooms are grim places, and pantomime is especially tough. (Oh yes it is.) The cast of Aladdin, which will open at University Concert Hall in Limerick next Friday, are in their second week of rehearsal. Kamal Ibrahim, who is from Limerick, as well as being a former Mr World, and an RTÉ Lotto presenter, is playing Aladdin. Twink – show-business stalwart, tabloid fodder and international judge of cake- decorating competitions – is playing his mother, Widow Twinkee.
Aladdin is nervous about meeting Princess Jasmine. (This is understandable, as she is being played by Leanne Moore, the You’re A Star winner who is now a reporter on the TV3 programme Xposé.) “Ah, is it your first time?” asks Twink. “No,” says Aladdin. “I’ve been nervous before.”
You either like this kind of joke or you don’t – some of us love it, actually – but, regardless, you have to admit the sheer effort of pantomime. This company will do 38 perfomances in two and a half weeks, with only Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off. Their first show of the day starts at 10am.
Twink has thrown in some local references for Limerick – “What in the name of the divinely beautiful Celia Holman Lee . . .” – and some just for fun: “Oh, sweet suffering Mary Byrne.”
There are ghostly sound effects and, everywhere, references to television, including one to Game of Thrones that I just don’t get.
Twink doesn’t get a lot of the television references, either. She watches quizzes, programmes about forensic anthropology, and the Discovery channel. She doesn’t watch Tina Fey or Jo Brand. “When I was writing pantomime I had two small kids, and I was watching everything,” she says. She describes herself now as unapologetically out of touch.
Twink is sitting at the side of what will be the stage, and she has to jump out of her chair every now and then to interject, as the action rolls on without her. She springs up every time, even though she is recovering from a fall in which she broke bones in both her hands, and everything still hurts.
Aladdin is courting Princess Jasmine, with his mother giving him instructions through an earpiece. So Twink is Cyrano de Bergerac as well as – and this is a bit disturbing – Mrs Brown. At the end of this scene, of course, Aladdin’s earpiece malfunctions, and Twink is left shouting “Abort! Abort!” to him in vain.
Unfortunately, but understandably, Twink doesn’t approve of political jokes in pantomime – they annoyed her even as a child – and she’s also a bit ambiguous about feminism. Instead the scene ends with Twink saying, “Sacred Heart, he’s gone rogue,” which is funnier than it looks in print.
Engulfed by controversy
It is impossible to watch Twink, otherwise known as Adele King, without thinking of all the controversies that have engulfed her. As Aladdin approaches Princess Jasmine, Widow Twinkee tells him, “Just because she’s a princess with buckets of money, and we’re stony broke and living above a laundry, there is no pressure on you to seal the deal.”
So we’re back to Twink’s problems paying her mortgage, and only pulled out of that appalling vista by her saying, “And that’s from the heart of your mother’s bottom. I mean the bottom of your mother’s heart.” Boom. Boom. “You’re crazy,” says Aladdin. “That has never been proven,” says Widow Twinkee, magnificently.