How can I begin to describe the bliss, the sheer splendid nonsense that is Theatre Britain’s Annual Christmas Panto? A cherished tradition in the UK, a Christmas Panto is a fairy tale and/or nursery rhyme presented as a comic musical revue appropriate for all ages, with plenty of winks, nods and nudges to the grown-ups. Though not containing any Christmas content, it is laden with delightful conventions and is part of the customary holiday festivities in England, and (thanks to Theatre Britain) here in Texas, as well. Each panto features a “Dame,” a bawdy, buxom, larger-than-life drag queen who just loves to flirt with the handsome gents along the first row. Pantos also include “The Principal Boy” : a young woman playing the Romantic Male Lead. You’d think with all this cross-dressing, and the inevitable dalliance that ensues, there might be some subversive subtext lurking; but, surprisingly, this is not the case. It’s all in innocuous good fun, no more provocative than watching Bugs Bunny cavort as Carmen Miranda.
This year the giddy giggle-fest concerns the plight of The Three Little Pigs, whose foster mother Miss Slightly Dotty (Billy Betsill) must muster up her motherly grit, to kick Hector, Harold and Hamish out from under her roof, and set up housekeeping on their own. (Apparently Dotty has not read the numerous media stories, detailing the rise of adult children returning to the nest, in response to our tanking economy.) Bestowing them with the materials needed to persevere (a twig, a brick and some hay) she sends them out into the world, with a lump in her throat (or it that her Adam’s Apple?) and a tear in her eye. First they must line up to get the necessary licensing from Patty Permit, then they must deal with the wily shenanigans of (The Big Bad) Wolf it Down, and her sisters, Puff and Huff. Rollicking through this raucous mash up are also : Jack (Principal Boy) Jill the Puppeteers and a Ghost.
Like the popcorn sagas we all love at Pocket Sandwich Theater, pantos encourage lots of audience participation, including booing, hissing and verbal abuse of the villains, though no projectiles, please. There’s a good-natured song competition between the guys and gals, a glow-in-the-dark puppet interlude, and the appearance of a ghost, who seems quite skittish himself. If ever there was a performance that begged for you to bring your spouse, offspring, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and cousins, this is it. Come for the singing, the dancing, the frolicking, goofy, merry mischief. It’s not easy to do justice to this marvelous spectacle in print, but I’m guessing, like me, after your very first visit, you’ll be hooked for life.
Theatre Britain presents The Three Little Pigs playing November 30th -December 29th, 2013. Cox Playhouse, 1517 Avenue H, Plano, Texas 75074. 972-490-4202. www.theatre-britain.com