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Theatre Britain teaches the colonies about British pantomime with 'Dick Whittington'
British pantomime is not about mute performers in whiteface pretending they are in a giant box.
In Theatre Britain's production of "Dick Whittington" at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano all of the actors speak, sing and dance beautifully.
British pantomime is about totally fun entertainment for the whole family. I had always thought British pantomime was children's theatre, something you could bring the kids to while you zone out for awhile. Shows you how little I knew.
What a fun time I had getting educated at a matinee performance of "Dick Whittington" last Sunday.
A British pantomime is a fairy tale traditionally performed during the Christmas holiday season. There are elaborate costumes, singing and dancing and a lot of audience participation. Do not think you can doze your way through this while the kids are entertained. I'm sure Dame Overeasy would find a way to wake you up.
It would be hard to nap during "Dick Whittington" any way. The show begins with actors in black under ultraviolet light carrying cutout figures decorated with paint that glows. Those figures perform all kinds of things in the dark, including a skateboarding rat. Ultraviolet light makes anything that is white seem to glow in the dark. Any audience member wearing anything white glows right along with the rats. It's a simple but fun stage effect.
The title character is a poor lad who hears that the streets of London are paved with gold. He makes his way to London to make his fortune.
The principle boy is traditionally played by a woman. Dick Whittington is played by Jad (Pronounced Jade) B. Saxton with a pluckiness that just doesn't stop. She brings unlimited energy to the part and is very appealing in her portrayal of a young lad.
The relationship between Dick and his cat is amusing. Jean-Luc Hester turns the part of Tom Cat into a small comic gem every time he meows. His facial expressions as the cat makes him worth glancing at every now and again while he is on stage. Dick Whittington's cat is as appealing as Dick.
The role that must work in the show no matter who else does what is the dame. The part of Dame Overeasy as played by James Chandler definitely works and then some.
Pantomime dames are traditionally played by middle-aged men. John Inman of "Are You Being Served?" fame had another career as a pantomime dame. Unfortunately that part of his career was practically unknown in this country.
But never mind. Theatre Britain has James Chandler. He is a vision of demented loveliness as Dame Overeasy. From his pastry-bejeweled hat to his flower-trimmed slippers there is something interesting to watch no matter what he does on stage.
While the costume completes Dame Overeasy, Chandler's performance is not dependent on it. He would still be funny as Dame Overeasy if he weren't in drag. He speaks most of the double entendre lines that provide chuckles for the adults. This is why you don't want to nap during the show.
Queen Rat is another character that wears a resplendent costume. Kate Rutledge wears the costume well, but could still play the part in less colorful togs. She is deliciously evil as the leader of the rats that follow her around and do her bidding. She demands the audience boo her every time she comes on stage. She certainly deserves it. It's not hard to boo her. She looks like she could cause anyone to do her bidding.
The rats are perhaps a bit too lovable to be believable as the vermin that was the scourge of London, but they are very entertaining. Their ears poking through their Fedoras that are color-coordinated with their vests are adorable. Caitlin Mills, Chris Sykes and Brandon Wilhelm all have funny rodent moments on stage. One of my favorites was when they all perform part of a hip hop number.
Jennifer Middleton Taylor plays Alice Fitzbetter, Dick's love interest and Fairy Bow Bells. She is well suited to every part she plays in this. It is fun to see
a good fairy that is dressed properly.
Nancy Lamb plays Alice's mother, Mrs. Fitzbetter among other parts. Mrs. Fitzbetter is not the most showy part, but she is still convincing as a mother trying to achieve the best for her daughter.
Michael Speck is Jack of All Trades. Jack acts as sort of a narrator of the proceedings and leads much of the audience participation. The children in the audience always have to tell him where to be when since Jack can't read. Speck's voice is also a pleasure to listen to.
John Moss, II and Nick Haley also play a number of smaller parts.
Costume designer Tory Padden outdid herself with this show. The costumes for
Dame Overeasy and Queen Rat are just right for the roles. They complete the characters rather than overshadow the characters. The stitchers listed in the program as Mary Ann Engle, Michelle Maloney, Joann Padden, Joni Padden and Kelly Scott must have had to start this time last year to get all the costumes done.
Wig and hair designer Don Hall did fine work as well. Dame Overeasy is fetching in her auburn sausage curls and Queen Rat looks as though a few rodents live in her mane.
Sue Birch has directed this show in such a way so that Americans can understand and appreciate British pantomime. She and her husband, Ian, founded Theatre Britain perhaps because they miss home. Theatre Britain performs only British plays. They are performing a cultural service by introducing Americans to the tradition of British pantomime and other British theatre conventions.
Come early to "Dick Whittington" and chat with the Birches. Their informative conversation adds to the whole panto experience.
"Dick Whittington" runs through December 28 at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano. Call 972-490-4202 or visit www.theatre-britain.com for reservations.
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