It’s that time of year again! Time for a good, old-fashioned panto. If you’ve been to a panto before, you know the rules. While my young reviewers and I have never seen a panto, Theatre Britian made us feel right at home at their world premiere of Jackie Mellor-Guin's retelling of The Three Musketeers. Sadly, it’s the final production for Theatre Britain.
Upon entering the lobby, you’ll immediately be struck by the feeling of community created by Theatre Britain. Patrons are greeted as old friends. The youngest theatre-goers are especially catered to as staff greets them at their eye level and makes sure that they know the rules. The audience is not only allowed to cheer, boo, and respond to the actors—it’s encouraged, and they are given special instruction by the welcoming staff. Be sure and check out the concession stand filled with British treats. The Theatre Britain team give you some fabulous information in the program-be sure to read it and share.
Director Sue Birch has deftly crafted a theatre experience that feels like an extension of your own home. Even though these characters are new to some, we feel like they are old friends welcoming us to join in their story. The Dame and narrator of the piece, Planchet (Ivan Jones) is a show-stopper, charming children and adults alike with his masterful repartee. He holds the key to why this layered performance is ideal for all ages: The youngest audience members connect to his warmth and enthusiasm with whimsical merriment while the more mature theatre-goers catch the subtle double entendre (spotted dick, anyone?). I’d like to bottle his energy!
Cardinal Richelieu (Brandon Whitlock) chews the scenery like it’s English toffee, giving us a villain we love to boo and hiss for. His maniacal laugh has given my young reviewer great pleasure in recreating. The Musketeers, led by Athos (Michael Speck), provide us heroes worth cheering for as they nimbly engage in swordplay. Camembert (Caitlin Duree) and Brie (Charli Armstrong) are marvelous physical comedians, provoking both the performance’s heartiest belly laughs and a few gentle reminders about the story’s twists and turns.
Moving from plot point to plot point and locale to locale, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat; however, a couple of the musical numbers derail the show’s overall energy and pacing. Still, the ensemble recovers quickly to get the story back on track and reengage the audience.
Visually stunning, Musketeers grabs your attention before the actors have even had a chance to take the stage. Darryl P. Clement’s sets astound, providing the perfect backdrop for this outlandish fairytale. His use of 2-D and 3-D elements is nothing short of astounding. Prepare to hear lots of “oohs” and “aahs” as the plot changes location. I don’t want to spoil it, but in Act II, you’ll gasp at the incredible reveal he concocts along with lighting designer, H. Bart McGeehon. Tory Padden’s costumes infuse the actors that wear them with their characters’ personalities. Flamboyant and fun, they are filled with life. The use of a broom and child’s scooter as mighty steeds will leave you in giggles.
Attending The Three Musketeers is far more than a pleasant way to pass the time—it’s an experience not to be missed, especially with your children. I deeply regret that my first panto experience is also my last, in DFW at least, due to the fact that the Birches are relocating back across the pond.
You’ll enjoy it? Yes, you will! To which your youngest audience members will respond "No you won't," gleefully engaging in “No you won’t/yes you will” dialogue for days.
That’s just one part of the fun.