CATS IN BOOTS AT CHRISTMAS
For the past several years, there has been a Christmas season’s pantomime at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. Each year, Jane A. Shields and Rosemary Doyle write a script, which features the recurring character of the Cheshire Cat, always played by director/actor Jackie English. Every year, new and veteran actors gather to put on a show that gives everyone the giggles.
Somehow, the theatre nabs top-of-the-line thespians for the event. Once assembled, the group throws caution to the wind, fully committed to dazzle and entertain.
Not only are the actors great, but Doyle has a special gift at building sets that are so preposterously inventive, you feel as if you’ve been thrown into Alice in Wonderland. Attending a holiday season Panto at the Red Sandcastle is a tradition, one that many have come to expect. I’ve attended the last five of them, and some are so fabulous, I feel they should play Las Vegas.
On the surface, the shows seem to target kids, but the comedy has different levels, and adults enjoy the references to topical subjects, not to mention sly innuendos. There is a lot of dancing, singing, bad puns, and a high level of improbability. The character of the Cheshire Cat is no ordinary cat. Jackie English as the celebrated feline is charming, sporting a French accent and a dry, sardonic wit.
In this year’s story, Cats in Boots!, Taran Beaty (in drag) plays a mother of three children, two girls and one son. On her way to jail for debt, she gifts her boy, (Farid Yazdani), her cat. Naturally, the pussy turns out to have magical powers, and makes everything he wants come true, or nearly. Taran Beaty is not just an incredible actor, he’s also an accomplished musician, and in jail, he performs a terrific guitar rendition of Jail House Rock, in full drag, that turns all other version of this Elvis classic turn pale by comparison. There are moments in the Cats in Boots! that work so well, you want to get up and dance, which of course often happens.
All pantomimes usually involve preposterous plots and improbable resolutions. Cats in Boots! is no different. I could hardly follow all the twists and turns of fortune and misfortune. But of course, that is half the fun. All logic is tossed out the window.
A panto requires that you go along for the ride, and this is made possible by a tight team of experienced actors. There are wonderful details, too. For example, you can tell Taran Beaty’s facial make-up wasn’t just slapped on. It was designed by a professional.
The cast members are always individual and interesting. Farid Yazdani is that rare breed of sexy man with comic charm. I hope we’ll see more of him on stage, TV, and in film in 2020. Matthew Donovan this year is cast as “The Ogre” with a belly so swollen and beautifully rounded, you imagine it’s real. The lovely Linette Doherty returns this year, playing a variety of roles, including a judge of obvious authority. Danielle Getz is a princess and Rosie Callaghan sprouts mouse ears, reminding us that anything can happen in this show, and does. And Jackie English is everlastingly “the cat’s meow”, all pretty in pink, and hilarious as “The Cheshire Cat”, who navigates us through each and every panto.
This year, as an added feature, several well-known actors made cameo appearances, adding to the storyline and conjuring amazing wizardry.
I should mention that without Rosemary Doyle, the theatre’s artistic director, and Deborah Ann Frankel, the general manager, nothing would exist. They keep the Red Sandcastle Theatre humming along, as well as most of the shows.
I hope this is not the last season for the pantos. They have become a staple of the entire Leslieville neighbourhood. In the past five years, this section of town has become ultra-trendy, filled with boutique shops and a hundred restaurants. Personally, I adore The Roy Public House, which has a genial bar and very good food.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, All!