One of the best reasons for travelling to Hinckley is to experience the annual pantomime at the enterprising Concordia Theatre, converted in 1972 from a derelict hosiery factory. This year's production of Sinbad the Sailor, devised, directed and costumed by John Hill, is a minor miracle. The audience marvelled at the strange alchemy that turned the efforts of more than 50 dedicated amateurs to pure gold, as precious as the ruby that Sinbad eventually recovers to ensure that all will be well.
This pantomime cannot be patronised as a mere seasonal entertainment for children. It has been as exquisitely crafted as a professional performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute, rich in spectacle, sentiment and humour, with a dazzling sequence of visual effects, a flying routine for Sinbad that would startle the Red Arrows, a thrilling turn by acrobats from the Hungarian State Circus and a staggering array of colourful costumes of which Vivienne Westwood would be proud.
The journey carries us far beyond the prosaic streets of Hinckley, where Joseph Hansom first drove his cab. From Zanzibar we sail with Sinbad, his brother Sillibillibad and their mother, Dame Fatima, to the Old Bazaar in Cairo, and thence to the spooky climax in the tomb of Two Ton Karmen (geddit?). Encounters on the way with ineffectual pirates, a recalcitrant camel and a baby parrot that morphs into a giant roc, fill out the narrative. But who cares about plot when the mood and spectacle are so enthralling?
Above all, this production has delicacy and heart. There is none of the brash raucousness, stereotypical choreography or crude innuendo that so often count these days as entertainment. For instance, an Egyptian dance for a chorus of children enchants by means of subtle movements of the head and hands. Even the comic routines aspire to the condition of music: duets, trios and septets are timed to perfection without losing the appearance of joyous spontaneity.
I mention no names, chiefly because theirs is a community effort in which players and audience communicate a shared sense of genuine enjoyment. Seasoned performers and young tiros, a vast number of them behind the scenes, labour for many months in preparation. The result on this occasion is a celebration of the human spirit that is much closer to commedia dell'arte than to the synthetic outpourings of our celebrity culture.
Ends Sat (01455 615 005)
Peter Hetherington, Retired schoolteacher, Bedfordshire
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