Volume 12 Week 5

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(Posted 5:30 p.m., Dec. 10)
Holiday panto makes triumphant return to local theatre
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The fairy Mauxilinda's henchman Vendetta, played by Peter Frayne, makes off with Lady Joan, played by Sarah Benfield, to be fed to the dragon in the panto production of 'The Dragon of Wantley'. Fred Sherwin/Photo

It's been three years since the East End Theatre company last performed a traditional holiday pantomime for a local audience.

They briefly suspended the production for a number of reasons, but just like the genre dictates you can't keep a good protagaonist down.

The theatre company that produced such classic pantos as "Aladdin", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Dick Whittington and His Cat" and "Cinderella" is back and better than ever with their holiday production of "The Dragon of Wantley", on this weekend at the Shenkman Arts Centre".

While not as well known as some of the more popular children's story pantos, "The Dragon af Wantley" features all the elements that make pantomimes so wonderfully entertaining. It has songs you can sing-along to; a Dame; a dastardly villain (in fact, it has three unlikeable and highly detestable characters); a hero; a damsel in distress; a pantomime horse and a principal boy whose job is to encourage audience participation.

That's the best part of a traditional English pantomime - the audience can join in the fun either by booing, or hissing, or even the odd heckle. The other good thing about pantos is that they are usuallly sprinkled with a generous amount of double-entendre jokes for the adults in the audience.

But make no doubt about it, pantomimes are by and large family entertainment and "The Dragon of Wantley" is no different.

The principal characters are the hero, Squire Benjamin Moore, played by Graham Mainwood; the young damsel, Lady Joan, played by local theatre veteran Sarah Benfield; the principal boy Bingo, played by Kyle Magee; the evil Mauxalinda, played by Michelle Grant, who holds power over the dragon, and her henchman Vendetta, played by Peter Frayne who has performed in most if not all of the East End Theatre pantos.

The two characters who get the most attention, at least from the audience, are Granny Gubbins, played by Jim Tanner, and the Mayor of Wantley, Sir Walter de Warthog, played by a personal pantomime favourite of mine, David McNorgan.

As Granny Gubbins, Tanner plays the perfect panto Dame in traditional drag armed with enough one-liners and zesty zingers to make Ebenezer Scrooge crack a smile. And McNorgan has been cast yet again as a cad and scoundrel as Sir Warthog, a role he takes on with true zeal.

First time panto director Nick St-Francois put his own contemporary twist on the production by casting the Sir Warthogs two barristers, played by Janette Smith and Lili Miller, as a pair of bearded, camouflaged duck hunters.

The rest of the cast includes Tara Fitzsimmons who plays Lady Joan's lady-in-waiting, Madge Merry; Sarah Kennedy, who at various times plays a ghost, a villager and the panto horse; and East End Theatre founding member and long time director Diane Barnett as Mother Shipton.

I almost forgot the village children, played by Aisla, Alex, James, Keira I, Keira II and Tyson, and the Celtic Cross Dancers Tara Hierlihy, Laurie MacEachern and Shadyn Proctor who do a cameo performance in Act 1.

I highly recommend going to see this wonderful play which carries on an age-old theatric tradition. If you've never been to a pantomime production, go see this one. The play wraps up tomorrow Tuesday, Dec. 30with two performances at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Admission is $17.50 for adults and $12.50 for children. There is also a family rate of $54 for two adults and two children.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)


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