It is rare that a show takes to heart the saying that a performance is incomplete without its audience. In Panto, it’s gospel. You might say “No, it isn’t!” But I answer, “Oh, yes it is!”
The call and response in the first paragraph shows one of the ways the audience joins a panto show as one of the players. At the Fremont Players opening of Puss in Boots, much of the audience, adult and child, came ready and knew what to expect. Let’s see. Traditionally, panto has
An Older Woman played by a Man (check)
The Principal Boy played by a Woman (check)
Several Animals (check for Puss in Boots, the cat; and check for Butterbib, the donkey)
An evil Villain or two (check)
Call and response with the audience (check)
The audience warning characters to “Look behind you!” (check)
The plot is a smashup of various fairy tales so there’s plenty of turns by members of the cast to sing and dance. Spoiler alert, the ensemble cast promise us a happy ending in the opening song.
So, what is panto? Panto is short for pantomime and can trace its history back to Greece 2100 years ago. In Italy in the 1500s, Commedia dell’arte troupes developed a popular street theatre based upon a set of stock roles. Traveling Commedia dell’arte companies brought pantomime to England. In 1716, John Rich performed as Harlequin (one of the stock roles) using only gesture and movement. It was an instant hit. From there, English pantomime has followed its own course. Today it’s thriving as it adapts and evolves with the changing times.
Here at Hale’s Palladium, about ten minutes before the start of the show the delightful Fremont Philharmonic Orchestra takes their places and warms up themselves and the audience with two tunes of their own composition.
To open the show, Aunt Saoirse (Chris Huson) comes out to warm-up the audience members and teach us how to enjoy panto. Huson made no effort to change his voice or intonations to mimic a woman’s. Huson led the audience through some practice singing, learning our lines for the call and response parts, and which characters to cheer, hiss, or boo.
On to the show. In a classic fairy tale plot, the youngest of three sons, William Miller (played by Pam Schwartz, a woman, as per panto tradition), gets very little out of his father’s will—$10 and Puss, the cat. But Puss (Leah Papernick) not only can speak, she’s smart.
Will falls in love with Princess Winnifred (Kiki Hood) but her father King Archibald (Michael Royalty) disapproves due to the class clash. It won’t do for a Princess to marry a poor miller’s son. The Princess is as much in love with Will as he is with her.
The evil villain Gruesome (Maque daVis—it’s okay to boo) believes he’s a better choice for the Princess’s hand. He connives to trick the two older sons out of their inheritance, and even their lives by inviting them to his castle for “dinner.” Dinner, like in Hansel and Gretel, is a meal of the boys served to the castle’s resident Ogress (Heather Mead, boo!).
Will gets Puss her kick-ass boots. Then Puss tricks the King into lending Will a princely set of clothes, fools the King about Will’s wealth, and kills the Ogress. Puss introduces Will to the King as the Marquis of Carabas as they entered the Ogress’s splendid castle. Now the King gladly gives his blessings to Will and the Princess—the promised happy ending.
This production follows the original version of this story from 1697 by Charles Perrault. So how do the Fremont Players keep both children and adults engaged in this very old tale? The audience participation kept everyone alert to do our part when a scene needs us to warn the players or assert that “Oh, yes you will” do something. The script has many puns and references to people in the news as winks to the adults. For example references to Vashon Island, Ballard, Tacoma, and contemporary issues were more for the adults than the kids.
In England, over the Christmas holiday season you have your pick of dozens of panto productions in towns and cities. Here in Seattle your choice is easy—Puss in Boots. Go with a child to and share with them the fun of live theater.
Parking: can be difficult.
Puss in Boots. Original script by the Fremont Players. Original music by the Fremont Philharmonic. Runtime 90 minutes with a 10 minute intermission. Hale’s Ale Palladium, 4301 Leary Way NW. Fremont. Shows: Sat 4:00 pm & 7:30 pm; Sun 1:00 pm & 4:00 pm. Adults, $15; Seniors and Kids, $7. Tickets at https://panto.brownpapertickets.com/ Runs through Sun Jan 6.
Dec. 10, 2018 from ewp —
I’m not usually one to bother with critiques. My likes are often askew of others’. Often my patience for someone else’s opinion on something I can make effort to see for myself is non-attentive. That said, I do like old being made new again and fresh being connected to what was … Today with everyone split on choices I would want to be in the audience chorus as one voice.