In The Little Theatre’s 25th pantomime, a Hawaiian Popaii is out to save the world

The script is devised based on what the actors bring to the table

The script is devised based on what the actors bring to the table   | Photo Credit: special arrangement


Twenty five years on, The Little Theatre’s annual pantomimes, can be considered as one of Chennai’s Christmas traditions

In the latter half of 1995, Aysha Rau was running around the city, relentlessly meeting potential sponsors, seeking permissions and gathering funds, after which she would diligently head to rehearsals, every day. A pantomime, written by her, was in the making.

She would constantly listen to popular songs at the time, and think of old tunes while driving in order to decide which tracks could make their way into the year’s performance. “For me, the entire year was consumed by the pantomime,” exclaims Aysha.

By then, she had already performed in four pantomimes written by Issy Sanderson, wife of Arthur Sanderson (then director of the British Council). Her creation, The Little Theatre, was barely three years old then.

When Issy moved out of Chennai, Aysha stepped in to continue what can now be considered one of Chennai’s Christmas traditions. The Little Mermaid, The Little Theatre’s very first pantomime, came alive in 1995.

“I was clearly just a writer,” says Aysha, who is a children’s books author as well. She adds, “So, I needed directors to come and work with me, while I continued to script.”

The first pantomime was directed by Bhagyavathi Narayanan, followed by Mithran Devanesan, Santham Alexander, Megan Utlie and so on. “Back then, I used to work on the script from January to March or April, and would discuss it with the director. After getting inputs from them, I would go back and work on it further,” recalls Aysha. Today, however, there is a stark difference in the process: it is now based on improvisation.

In 2000, when Yog Japee was directing Cleopatra, he experimented with improvisation. “This particular pantomime stood out. He took the skeleton of the script and collaborated with the actors. And this is very challenging for the director and the script writer,” says Rohini Rau, trustee of The Little Theatre, whose relationship with the pantomime dates back to 1995 when she played a seahorse in The Little Mermaid. With Krishnakumar Balasubramanian’s entry as the director in 2011, this idea evolved further.

Cut to today, ‘Cheriana’, The Little Theatre’s studio space in Chetpet, is teeming with singers, dancers, actors and visual artists alike as they close in on show dates.

To the background of a Chinese song, animal warriors led by their Master P (panda) are practising kung fu moves. Popaii in Hawaii, the 25th Christmas pantomime, is in the making.

“There is this really special element called the ‘heart of the ocean’, which our hero, Popaii (in this version, part of a Hawaiian tribe), loses. And he is on a quest to find it before he can ask for Olive’s hand in marriage. According to a prophecy, if the element is stolen, the world will perish. It’s up to him now to save the world,” says Krishnakumar. Popaii in Hawaii is his eighth pantomime.

“Most people who come in to participate are amateurs. It is important to know what each of them is capable of, understand their strengths, and write for them,” he says.

His first production, Alice in Iland, gave him an insight into the visual possibilities of a pantomime. “Ever since, how the play looks on stage matters a lot to me,” he says. This explains the multiple fight sequences, neon-lit scenes and choreographed dances that dominate this year’s pantomime. In addition to that, the characters address topical environmental issues, laced with humour, in an effort to spread awareness by not sounding preachy.

Popaii in Hawaii is on December 14 and 15 (3 pm and 7 pm), 16 and 17 (7 pm) and 18 (6 pm). Visit for tickets priced at ₹200 and ₹400.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:52:52 AM |

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