In search of that dratted boy

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The Independent Online
'THE WORLD has been waiting a long time for something new in Christmas entertainment,' Rod Quilt, director of the Travail Theatre, says. 'So far it has waited in vain. But this year we think we have done the trick with That Dratted Boy]'

That Dratted Boy] is quite revolutionary - half Nativity play, half pantomime. The hero is Jesus, but the treatment is 100 per cent panto - in fact, the title is taken from Widow Twankey's cry: 'Aladdin? Aladdin? Oh, where's that dratted boy]'

'To be quite honest,' admits Mr Quilt candidly, 'we have taken more than the title from Aladdin. We've taken the story and characters as well. Well, once you've seen how well it fits, it's hard not to. The mother of Jesus is quite easy to see as a Widow Twankey figure, for a start . . . admittedly, with a husband in the shape of Joseph, it's hard to portray her as an actual widow, but Joseph is such a shadowy figure, never making any decisions and never really getting down to much carpentry, that Mary comes across as much the stronger and bossier figure.

'The first shock for the audience is when Mary comes on, crying, 'Jesus? Jesus? Oh, where is that dratted lad] I've got 20 loads of washing to get hung out, and it's all still lying there]' The second shock is when Jesus comes in and waves his hand, and all the washing gets hung up in a trice.' A miracle? 'The Bible calls them miracles. In Aladdin, they're magic. We call them stage effects. But the point we're trying to make is that they're all the same thing.'

So the Madonna isn't the adoring mother portrayed by Renaissance art, or the Catholic Church, come to that? 'Not by a long chalk. She won't let Jesus call Joseph 'Dad', for a start. Every time he does, she hints there may be a few surprises to come his way. 'Don't call that man Dad,' she shrieks. 'I asked him to knock up a crib for you when we were stuck in that stable and here we are eight years later and he hasn't finished it yet] Some father] Your real father wouldn't hang around] Not that I've seen him hanging around much lately either.'

The absentee father strain is strong in both the Aladdin and the Jesus story, that is true. But what of the puzzling figure of Uncle Abanazar? How does he fit into the biblical story?

'First time round he's merely King Herod in disguise, looking for the baby king. 'I'm going to massacre the innocents]'; 'Oh, no, you're not]'; 'Oh, yes, I am]' and all that. But later he is much more the devil in disguise, the power of temptation and evil, offering Jesus power in return for self-aggrandisement. It's not so far from 'Get thee behind me, Satan' to 'Look out behind you]'

'In the Bible, you remember, the devil took Jesus up into a high place and showed him the universe, and promised him power if he would only bow down and worship him. And Jesus resists. In Aladdin, Uncle Abanazar makes him go into a cave and tempts him with all the treasure he finds. And Aladdin succumbs.'

Does Jesus succumb to temptation in That Dratted Boy]? 'I think that might be pushing it too far. But he certainly finds the magic lamp and rubs it.' And the genie comes out? 'No, the Holy Ghost comes out.'

And does the Holy Ghost promise to do whatever Jesus asks him to do? 'Yes, but strictly on condition that Jesus is a good boy, not to say perfect, and that he spreads the gospel throughout the world.'

Isn't that all getting a bit serious for a panto? 'Oh, good heavens, I haven't even mentioned all the wonderful comic business, what with the head of John the Baptist on a trencher - truly hilarious, that bit, except when the electrics go wrong - and the wicked doings of Judas Iscariot, who is based loosely on Baron Stoneybroke, and the Sermon on the Mount, which has got lots of TV commercials in it and, oh, so much more.'

Does the panto get up as far as Jesus's death? 'Well, not very Christmassy, is it? But we do hint strongly at the parallels between Aladdin's being locked in the cave, and Jesus being put in the tomb for three days.'

Does Mr Quilt anticipate opposition from the church? 'I don't remember them kicking up a fuss over Joseph or Jesus Christ Supertax, so I don't suppose they will over Jesus - The Panto. Which is a shame, because a fuss from the church would help with publicity. That's why we've written in the Bishop of Gloucester as a walk-on part.'

The Travail Theatre's That Dratted Boy] will be in your part of the country soon.