17 January 2023

Full Flavour for the New Year


Crit by Andre Delicata for The Sunday Times of Malta

Masquerade has proven once again that a pandemic-induced hiatus did not dampen their commitment to quality entertainment. In a great collaboration between writer Malcolm Galea, producer/director Anthony Bezzina and musical director Kris Spiteri, this year’s Ċikku and the Chocolate Panto was indeed a very enjoyable afternoon out. Malcolm Galea’s great script and characterisation reimagined Roald Dahl’s much-loved story into a zany Maltese concoction as frivolously funny as a prinjolata.

Galea’s typically pepe Dame Desserta, was as hilarious as his previous iterations of the lovable seasonal caricature and the buoyant delivery of his lines blended seamlessly with his audience interaction. Under Spiteri’s musical direction, Valerie Burke’s choreography came to the fore against the backdrop of Romualdo Moretti’s vibrant sets. The vibrancy was extended in Simona Mamo and Ernest Camilleri’s fantastic costumes.

Dame Desserta’s son Ċikku (Nathaniel Attard) works for a pittance in Mr Meaney‘s (Marco Calleja) factory producing chocolate-covered vegetables – which, we were assured, are as horrid as they sound. Meaney’s bookish daughter Millie (Martina Galea Loffreda) is lonely and Ċikku is one of the few people who is friends with her.

Cue in the fantastic Willy Wonder played by Joseph Zammit in splendid form and his magical world of amazing chocolate, with his golden ticket competition for his chocolate panto; and the stage is set for Mr Meaney to check out his competition as he acquires a ticket by devious means; The ever-poor and clueless Dame Desserta also tries her luck at making money, by accompanying her son Ċikku as a golden ticket winner.

Meanwhile, Willy Wonder’s muse/entertainer Diva Devine (Catherine Brown) – the face of his brand, is scheming behind his back with her two minions Foxy Roxy (Hannah Gatt) and Funky Monkey (Karl Bartolo). Franco Sciberras’s cameo as the Giant – the original Willy Wonder and the current one’s old mentor, gave a nod to older fairy tales, while Diva Devine’s book of evil spells had echoes from Potter’s Chamber of Secrets.

A rollicking musical ride ensues as they are joined by the other three teens who have won the competition Barbara (Melissa Merceica), Fifi (Chrissy Despott) and Jack (Ben Tonna). In spite of their secondary roles, Tonna, Despott and Merceica were all distinctive enough to leave strong performances, equalling the very enjoyable ones given by Gatt and Bartolo who did the baddie-minion duo trope proper panto justice.

Marco Calleja did Mr Meaney to a T – selfish, grovelling and arrogant… and surprisingly likeable. Ms Brown’s volatile Diva Devine was amnic in just the right way and made a great adversary to the true Wonder Duo of the show – Attard and Galea Loffreda are both terrific singers and the script made the most of their talent.

The show had moments of brilliance, starting with a terrific ensemble performance adapted from Avenue Q – where Ċikku introduces himself and bemoans his poverty-stricken and boring life. In fact, two other introductory tunes were equally as fun to watch: the villains’ songs. Marco Calleja’s rendition of I Love Brussels Sprouts – gave a strong Weird Al vibe to Mr Meaney’s gloating and Catherine Brown did a Disney classic proud with her version of Ursula’s Poor Unfortunate Souls.

And speaking of classics, nothing made me feel as old as realising that I had already been around for a while when Christina Aguilera’s Candyman was first released – Willy Wonder’s entrance and introduction to his Chocolate Panto made for a trip down memory lane.

Thankfully when Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five came on, I was reminded that I was NOT around for that – just. Mixed into this playlist of old and new classics, were a few choice contemporary pieces adapted from Dua Lipa’s Levitating, Ed Sheeran’s Celestial and George Ezra’s Green Green Grass.

Galea’s ability to adapt the lyrics to the panto so fittingly was in part what made these catchy tunes so very enjoyable. Both main cast and ensemble were dynamic in their interpretation and sharp on their choreography, making for slick and professional visuals and vocals.

The final performance of the show started 2023 with its slew of political jibes and tongue-in-cheek comments about zany Maltese quirks. It was a very good over-view of the past year and a reminder for us to do better – just as the show did with its fun-filled and highly entertaining exuberance.

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