BWW Review: British Players' ALICE IN WONDERLAND: A TRADITIONAL BRITISH PANTO a Hilarious Family Treat
Once again it's that time of year, folks, when parents silently dread the idea of squeezing into pews and concert hall seats to listen in silent reverence for this or that hymn of the season. All while keeping the wee ones from fidgeting, wiping their noses on their brand-new sweaters, and fiddling noisily with whatever hand-held gaming device you have on hand.
It seems to me that what families really need in the middle of all this Winter mayhem is a time to laugh at a few cheap jokes, sing a few hit songs, dance in their seats, and-even better-a place where the kids can sprawl on the floor and talk back to actors just for the fun of it.
If the holiday cheer seems beyond your grasp, the British Players have just the ticket; this year's "Alice in Wonderland: A Traditional British Panto," comes complete with a fractured take on a beloved tale, cross-dressing actors, and opportunities galore to participate in the action. Director and Co-Producer Pauline Griller-Mitchell has assembled a sizeable cast and kept them on their toes for a very entertaining evening indeed. Chock full of familiar tunes for young and old to sing along, this is truly a family affair, with performing families onstage mirroring the families in the audience, and more than enough fun for all.
Leading the cast is Amanda Dullin-Jones as Alice, a formidable heroine who-in this telling of her tale-has her (humongous) watch stolen by a certain White Rabbit-played here by the engaging Clare Palace. Why stolen? Because the evil, nasty, no-good, really short Queen needs it to carry out her dastardly plan to wipe out Wonderland. Played with a deliciously wicked relish by Laura W. Andruski (whose stature is reduced through a clever device, well hidden from view), this is a Queen who earns every "Boo, Hiss!" the kids and grown-ups can muster. She is attended by a small phalanx of card/courtiers, led by their hand-wringer in chief the King, played here to Nervous-Nelly perfection by Colin Davies.
When you bring your kids, the first thing you'll notice is the carpets spread right in front of the stage, where they're encouraged to lounge around throughout the show and interact with the cast, who are always making eye-contact with them. It helps, too, that the ensemble is filled with kids like them, who sing and dance their way through the show - with some really fine tap-dancing from Molly Ross to open Act 2!
As far as Lewis Carroll's story goes, the usual suspects are here in force-Chloe Sinder's Caterpillar and Maisy Morowitz's Dormouse stand out, but are by no means the only familiar characters for the kids (and the kid inside you, dear reader) to enjoy. And of course, to keep the action permanently off-kilter you've also got Meghan Williams Elkins and Kathy Suydam as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (don't ask which is which, both characters are, shall we say, a few cards short of a full deck).
Impossible to overlook, both for his height and his absurd Union Jack costume, is Chuck Hoag as the Dame-if you've never been to a British Pantomime show, the Dame is one of the highlights of the evening, a grown man (5 o'clock shadow optional?) in a dress, who becomes the butt of many jokes. Not only does Hoag answer that age-old, grade-school question, "What would daddy look like in Grandma's dresses?" he also provides grown-ups with a few 'mature' jokes designed to go right past the kids. What on earth he has to do with the plot is anyone's guess, but it just wouldn't be a Panto, and wouldn't be half as much fun, without him.
Any staging of Alice in Wonderland's story is going to be visually fun, and Justine Crimans' costumes are especially joyful and playful, with bright colors, obscenely loud plaids for the Tweedles, and massive hoop skirts to make you laugh even when the cast is just standing around. Robert Leembruggen's scenic design fills the Kensington Town Hall space with color, and includes an ingenious teapot among other neat devices. Even the lobby is brightly decked out by Nicola Hoag and Joan Roseboom.
So do yourself, your kids, and grandkids a favor; get thee to the Kensington Town Hall for "Alice in Wonderland," and have a blast! The best part is that you can catch the show well into the New Year too!
Production Photo, left to right: Meghan Williams Elkins as Tweedle Dum, Chloe Sinder as the Caterpillar, and Kathy Suydam as Tweedle Dee. Photo by Harvey Levine.
Alice in Wonderland: A Traditional British Panto plays until January 4, 2020 at the Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington MD (just off of Connecticut Avenue, north of the Beltway).
For Tickets visit: https://tickets.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&e=41831725b59403f411571da84d42e6bf&vqitq=d6f09b80-a921-442a-947e-039f6c18940a&vqitp=a1496779-9b9f-4dd7-89d2- 4c953296c07b&vqitts=1575741244&vqitc=vendini&vqite=itl&vqitrt=Safetynet&vqith=a22bd21de853a64a0cdff0794353f048