RED SANDCASTLE launches the New Year with theatrical fireworks!
A pantomime or panto is a kind of musical comedy, developed in England and performed during Christmas and New Years. Every year, Red Sandcastle Theatre premieres a newly-minted holiday pantomime. Originally, the panto was performed by family members involving zany costumes, music, dancing, bad word-puns, cross-dressing, and improbably plotline, referencing folklore or fairytale. Each year, playwrights Rosemary Doyle and Jane A. Shields collaborate, creating a new and dramatic comedy. At the Red Sandcastle, the art form has taken a giant leap forward. At this show, we see real actors putting on a first-rate production. These productions are SO splendid; the audience should be able to see them all year long.
These annual pantos are always narrated by one permanent character, the Cheshire Cat. The Cat is always played by Jackie English, all in pink, with a distinctly French accent. Across the years, this feline character has become as famous as Canada’s moose, loon, or beaver. Hopefully, one day, the Cat’s familiar silhouette will grace this country’s flag, its paw on the maple leaf.
This year’s panto, Excali-Purr, seems inspired by the legend of young King Arthur of England who must discover, through trial and error, his true lineage and destiny. In this, he is aided by the magician Merlin, and others. There are of course, counter-plots, to put Arthur’s brother on the throne. There are chivalrous knights, heroes, villains, and even awesome cupcakes available at intermission, home-made by one of the show’s super villains. (OMG they are addictive!)
The cast consists of Jackie English, Matthew Donovan, Linette Doherty, Andrew McGillvray, Rosie Callaghan, Taran Beaty, and Farid Yazdani. These are all professional actors and they know how to entertain. The cast hits the stage running and the audience goes nuts with excitement. The adults and kids squeals at every tremendous costume change, and all “cheer” and “boo”. And with Deborah Ann Frankel at the technical helm, special effects sizzle! One minute the stage fills with smoke. The next, bubbles float from the ceiling. Gigantic emojis suddenly swirl about the stage. The very air throbs. Suspense is everywhere, as the whole cast slip and slide into dance numbers that astound.
I must draw special attention to Taran Beaty, who appears in the panto annually, wearing increasingly spectacular costumes. Mr. Beaty not only acts, but he is the first Merlin that I’ve ever seen play an electric guitar.
Everyone on stage is a slave to the music, such as Matthew Donovan, in full armour, playing a trombone and dancing up a storm. All the women, Jackie English, Linette Doherty, and Rosie Callaghan, gyrate and jive with delicious dexterity. In particular, I must mention Farid Yazdani, who pushes the boundaries of dance beyond anything imaginable. Anatomically, I had no idea a man’s gluteus maximus could undulate at that velocity, transcending the laws of physics. He also does an Elvis impersonation that left me with my jaw on the floor.
Andrew McGillvray plays “Twanky of the Lake”, some type of cheerful “witch”. His character is the worst at spelling, inadvertently setting in motion much of the play’s intrigue. Mr. McGillvray sports a lean, athletic physique, and looks better than any man I’ve ever seen in a bare-shouldered evening gown. He looks particularly ravishing in an abundant wig he wears of a color not found in nature. I believe Rosemary Doyle has had a hand in the selection and creation of many of the show’s costumes, which spawn a near hallucinatory effect on the spectators.
I forget if this is the 7th or 8th panto at the Red Sandcastle, but I do wish that someone would collectively publish the works as a part of Canadian theatre. You’d be surprised how easily manuscripts get lost these days and it is imperative that the text be preserved and performed worldwide!
Excali-Purr is great entertainment for adults and children, and personally, I think if you brought your cat, it would have a terrific time, as well. (You’d have to clear that with the management, I suspect).
God bless you all!
© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved. All photos by Burke Campbell