Chennai’s Little Theatre presents ‘Popaii in Hawaii’ pantomime

Chennai: Brutus (aka Bluto) hits Popeye; a hurt, one-eyed and weak Popeye eats spinach and retaliates his archenemy and Olive Oyl, in a screechy tone, praises him.

Popeye, the sailor is one of the cartoons that many children grew up watching. Popaii (yes, that how he is spelled in this version) sails down to Chennai to put spotlight on climate change.

City-based The Little Theatre is back yet again this year with its annual Christmas pantomime – ‘Popaii in Hawaii’. Every year, the troupe stages a panto on social issues that needs attention with humour as disguise, which has essentially been the concept of panto over the years across the world.

TWIST IN THE TALE

Here is a different take of the popular cartoon. It is 1920. The Amazon forest has burned away due to a mysterious fire and the earth’s oxygen supply is dropping dangerously low. Two spinach farmers – Popaii and Bluto – are in the middle of a crisis as the baby spinach protest and refuses to grow without fresh oxygen. There comes the twist, the village beauty, Olive will only marry the most successful farmer and the mastermind villain Melon Musk plotting conspiracy. Scripted by Krishnakumar, aka KK, artistic director of The Little Theatre, Popeye travels to the mysterious land of Hawaii to find out a solution. Catch the rest as the theatre troupe performs in the city.

In the previous years, The Little Theatre has performed about gas-lighting and cleanliness themes among many others. Taking cue of the global happening, they have themed it on climate change.

BALL GETS ROLLING

The office space at Valluvar Kottam go live every evening as actors ensemble to rehearse the play until late night. Speaking about the idea, KK says, ‘The basic concept of good triumphing over evil and the characterisation remain the same and every year, we weave a fresh tale surrounding an issue in a comical way.’
What is it if we do not see Popeye sailing? Fret not, the artisitic director assures of audience enjoying the authentic Popaii, Bluto and Olive as they were showcased in the good ol’ cartoon.

Drifting away from the traditional approach, KK auditioned the actors before scripting the play.

“I am keen to cast passionate people in my plays. This time, I auditioned the actors and conducted workshops for three months. Meanwhile, I spent good amount of time discovering their strengths and wrote the script accordingly,” KK says and adds, “However, the challenge was to identify their potential within the limited time-frame.”

John Melvin, one of the actors, relocated to Chennai just to be a part of the panto. Originally a drum tutor in Bengaluru, he waited for almost two years and plays Bluto in the panto.

TWENTY-FIVE AND COUNTING
Popaii in Hawaii being the group’s 25th year of bringing panto culture to Chennai, it is all the more special for Rohini Rau who has grown up with the tradition. Rohini, who is also a medical doctor, recalls her first time and speaks about how the folklore has evolved.

“Although every Christmas we compete with blockbuster movies, we break the fourth wall and interact with the audience and they are our special effects,” she says.

“We have regular audience, apart from the new ones, who turn up customarily for every panto we stage in Chennai,” Rohini adds.

(Catch The Little Theatre’s Popaii in Hawaii from 13 to 18 December at the Egmore Museum Theatre.)

Bhavani Prabhakar