‘UnFrozen’ the pantomime

Lovers of the rand old tradition of British pantomime were treated to UnFrozen, an unofficial sequel to the popular Walt Disney animated classic film Frozen, with all the favouritecharacters of Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf the Snowman and Sven the Reindeer, but with a twist.

The Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society (KADS) adapted Frozen to a Ugandan situation to create UnFrozen, featuring new characters like minions, expanded musical selections and the popular rolex, a snack of vegetable and egg rolled in a chapati. The pantomime was staged at the National Theatre in Kampala on December 3-6.

When their kingdom becomes trapped in perpetual winter in Frozen, fearless Anna joins forces with mountaineer Kristoff and his reindeer sidekick to find Anna’s sister, Snow Queen Elsa, and break her icy spell. Elsa possesses powers, with which she is able to produce or manipulate ice, frost and snow at will.

Although their epic journey leads them to encounters with mystical trolls, a comedic snowman, harsh conditions, and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff bravely push onward in a race to save their kingdom from winter’s cold grip.

Frozen, released in the US in November 2013, earned $1.2 billion worldwide in ticket sales, making it the fifth highest-grossing film in box office history (global ticket sales). It is the highest-grossing animated film of all time. It won two Oscars last year for best animated feature and best original song for Let It Go, sung by Idina Menzel.

The Ugandan plot sees a runaway bride Anna (Namirembe M’sango) abandoning Kristoff (Emma Norris) at the altar to follow her dream of aenture in the Pearl of Africa and even work for a non-governmental organisation. She was not in love with him and therefore not ready for marriage.

UnFrozen exploits the Arendelle-meets-Uganda setup, with all the age-old questions such as, what happens when an ice princess visits the warm equatorial land? Or do reindeers actually like rolexes? Or what would a rolex seller say to a talking snowman?

For extra drama, the production threw in a proper panto villain in the form of the evil Snow Queen (Margot Girerd-Barclay), whose story by Hans Christian Andersen inspired the originalFrozenmovie (but she was unceremoniously left out of the film and now she’s back for vengeance in UnFrozen).

In the end, music and singing saves the day as the cast and audience defeat the villainous Snow Queen with a big rendition of Let it Go, and she fails to seize the Kingdom of Arendelle. True love prevails as Kristoff weds Elsa, and not Anna.

UnFrozen is a family-oriented production, with the audience interacting with the cast by cheering the good guys, booing the villains, singing along to greatmusical numbers. The audience even gets to talk to the cast in the grand old tradition of British pantomime by shouting out to characters on stage about impending actions from protagonists or affirming their actions.

The production featured a long list of songs: In the opening scene, Olaf sings Do you want to build a snowman? from Frozen, which cuts immediately into Ice, Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice the Cups song (When I’m Gone) L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole I Wanna Hold Your Hand a remake of the Beatles version TheMinions’song Banana Michael Jackson’s Bad What Makes you Beautiful by One Direction All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor Let it Go fromFrozen Time of My Life from the movieDirty Dancing and the curtains fall to the sound of Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off.

UnFrozen was written by Nic Frances, directed by Kenan Pollack and Inger Kammeraat and produced by Tats Hawker and Cheryl Bartell.

According to Frances, UnFrozen was Kenan’s idea, including the making the setting Uganda and adding in the stock pantomime characters.

We agreed on an outline of the plot, then I wrote up the first draft and added things like The Snow Queen, the Minions, the Rolex seller and the Villains Anonymous Support Group. Kenan then adapted the first draft, adding jokes and characters. It has been a team effort from start to finish.

As to the importance of the UnFrozen production in Uganda today, Pollack notes that, For starters, it allows for a creative and theatrical outlet for aspiring new Ugandan and expatriate actors and actresses to debut on stage. For many of our cast, these kinds of shows represent their first major production especially in a venue such as the National Theatre. This also goes for our technical and stage crew who learn valuable backstage skills running a show like this. When you factor in lighting, sound, props, makeup, costumes and sets, there is a lot that goes into making one of these shows work.

For the audience, the panto is a long-standing British tradition of the holidays and we are pleased to keep that going for those who knew it growing up elsewhere, or discovered it here. We also hope to provide another choice of theatre for all Ugandans.

And finally the panto provides a source of income for the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society (KADS) which we can use to support other performing arts and cultural groups through our Community Action Programme, Pollack added