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Century Church Theatre holding Pantomime set in medieval times

May 19, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Whether the idea of a Panto is an old favourite of yours or you have never experienced such a thing, bring your kids, bring your granny to Century Church Theatre’s Dick Whittington and his Cat, a “Panto” with enough funny for everyone. 

Opening this weekend May 21 and running on weekends until June 5, this Panto is both traditional and exceptional. With a cast of 19 members, including the cat, Dick Whittington and his Cat is happening through the challenges of rehearsals, lockdowns and the theatre company’s enthusiasm to go the distance.

“The Panto was originally scheduled for November, 2020,” Jo Phenix, who has written and directed the show explained. “But [it] got shut down and we tried again for November, 2021.”

That could not happen either and the theatre is very pleased to bring it to you now.

“We came through it all relatively unscathed,” she reported and went on to say, “next week, we’re taking off the masks to sing on stage – that has been challenging too.”

With the risks of Covid never far from mind, everyone connected with the theatre has been fully vaccinated. The theatre is selling tickets only up to a 70 per cent capacity to an audience that must wear masks while indoors.

“We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable,” she said, adding, “There is an intermission during the show when people can step outside for a breath of fresh air if they want to.”

The story of this Panto is about Dick Whittington, based on the actual person of that name who became the only Lord Mayor of London to be elected three times, first in 1397 by virtue of King Richard II selecting him. As Lord Mayor was a position earned strictly by being elected, Dick Whittington was duly voted in, in October of the same year and again in 1406 and 1419. He is the most famous of the Mediaeval Mayors of London.

After his death, Whittington’s name was attached to the College of Priests and an almshouse for 13 poor men and women nearby that he had endowed. So was his name remembered and revered. When a fable filtered into England from France of a cat that led a poor man to his fortune, it was the famous and charitable Dick Whittington who became the star of that tale, 150 years after his death.

Thus, the well-loved Pantomime (the stories of which are many) born of British theatrical tradition with roots in the Italian Comedia dell’Arte, carries an imagined life of Dick Whittington coming to London as a poor boy and guided by the wisdom of an extraordinary cat, who wins through to fame and fortune to become Lord Mayor of London.

The format of Panto is comedy, when the star male and female characters are played in reverse by women and men. There is slap stick and there are satirical jokes, very often referring to modern day politicians or local celebrities. 

“There is romance and good triumphs over evil,” Ms. Phenix said. “Our Pantos are so popular over the years. There’s something for everyone. Fabulous costumes.”

What has really made the theatre company happy about producing this Panto is the number of younger people who have auditioned and are participating in the show. It seemed that some of the teenage girls had never worn dresses as elaborate as these.

As the author of this Panto, keeping some of the jokes up to date, Ms. Phenix admitted that while she wrote the story from the original, she also took her “usual liberties,” suggesting the “audience has to be on their toes”.

Many of the cast are new and very talented teenagers. This is wonderful when they return to the theatre for the older members of the company to see them over the years. One of the performers was nine years old when she joined Century Church Theatre company and now she is in high school, still having a good time doing Panto.

Indeed, Century Church is well known for its Panto, an annual tradition with the theatre for 12 years. For people who think that fables are only for children, Ms. Phenix wants them to know there is lots for adults as well.

For anyone who does not know about Panto, she invites them to join the audiences to see what fun they are.

“It’s a beautiful opportunity to join in,” she tempts them. “The Panto breaks down the ‘fourth wall’ so that everybody is drawn into the action. The cast is a mixed crowd from many cultural backgrounds.”

Her message for the uninitiated: if you do not know Panto when you come, you get to know it while you are there.

“Young people bring a lot of fresh energy to the show,” she noted. “we’ve made no attempt to be English – this is a universal art form to entertain everybody.”

Running over three weekends from this weekend, May 21, the nine performances are scheduled with fewer evening shows and more matinees. Please go to the website for details about ticket sales at www.centurychurchtheatre.com



         


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