LONDON: We are all well familiar with “Cinderella”, “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin,” but a new fairytale has taken to stages across Britain this month.
Touring five cities, including London, Manchester and Birmingham, Britain’s first ever Muslim pantomime, “Cinder’aliyah,” was written by British-Pakistani actor and stand-up comedian Abdullah Afzal for international humanitarian charity Penny Appeal, with all proceeds going to aid its winter campaign.
Thousands of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions have come out to watch the pantomime and there are talks about extending it into January and adding more cities around the UK. Afzal, 32, told Arab News that his aim when writing the panto was to bring people together instead of segregating them.
Afzal, who is best known for his role in BBC’s “Citizen Khan,” said there is a bit of worry when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming lockdown that may follow in January, but they were always worried that this could happen before the pantomime started touring in December.
“I think with pantomimes, you have to be prepared for anything and everything and I think it’s the same behind the scenes as well, so whatever happens we’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
“Cinder’aliyah” includes the stock characters from the original, with their names and traditions adapted to emulate South Asian culture. The story follows a young Pakistani girl who has had to endure the constant trouble and hardships thrown at her by her evil stepmother and stepsisters.
“I know that Penny Appeal had done a Muslim pantomime before, and I thought I could put my own spin on things,” Afzal said.
British-Kashmiri actress and writer Anisa Butt, who plays the lead, said although the story is set on a South Asian Muslim family, it is not just a pantomime for South Asians and anyone can watch it.
“Some of the jokes are quite culture-specific, but I think that’s actually quite nice, that’s why we’re getting the laughs that we’re getting and it’s a lot of fun, and I think, especially in our community, we’ve not seen that before,” said Butt, 28, who was a Disney child star in India and made her film debut in “Baat Bann Gayi.”
She said that it has been a long time since she has done a pantomime — which is a family-based theatrical production involving music, topical jokes and slapstick comedy — and was delighted to do an untraditional performance that adapted the original story.
Prince Javed, or Prince Charming as known in “Cinderella,” played by Hussnain Lahori, British-Pakistani singer, actor and music producer, has been looking for love, but cannot find anyone that he desires because he’s looking for someone true and pure, and he finally finds that in Cinder’aliyah.
“We’re trying to introduce everyone to pantomimes because it’s part of British culture, but we’re also trying to promote British culture through this pantomime to all Asians and non-Asians as well,” Lahori said.
Although they had expected the show to be in high demand, they did not expect how well it had been received by the audiences on social media and with PR feedback, he added.
And that’s a wrap for the final show of the year. Written and executed by the amazing @Abdullah_Azfal
— pennyappeal.org (@pennyappeal) December 23, 2021
“I think not many people have been to a pantomime before and quite frankly, I don’t think they were expecting it to be as good as it is,” Lahori said.
Amna Saqlain, from London, is no stranger to pantomimes and traveled over 90 minutes with nine family members to see the show. She said it has been a great experience, especially for the children, and that she enjoyed the traditional Christmas songs that they had adapted.
“I’ve been to many as a kid but they have always been Christmas-related and not to do with our religion, so it was quite nice to have a lot of connotations to our religion and our culture,” she said.