The holidays mean a lot of different things to different people, but to the British and Anglophiles, it means something very special—it’s time for panto! The British Players deliver their annual holiday season panto with “The Little Mermaid, a Family Pantomime.” While this year sees a change of venue to Silver Spring Stage, all the panto magic is still there in abundance.
…panto magic…in abundance.…a fun and joyous show that can be enjoyed by the entire family…fresh and funny.
For those unfamiliar with The British Players, they are a theatre group who were initially formed by local British employees of the UK embassy in Washington D.C. Over the years, they have welcomed Americans into their ranks, but they have remained committed to presenting traditional British entertainment that they share with the community. One such tradition that they share each year is the holiday pantomime.
A pantomime is not what many Americans think of—soundless acts done by a person with white makeup and black clothes. British pantomime, which is a long time staple of the holiday season, is the comedic re-telling of a fable or faerie story and implements contemporary music, classic character tropes, and some of the corniest jokes you’ve ever heard. It also utilizes “breaking the fourth wall” which not only allows, but actually encourages, the audience to cheer, boo, sing, and participate in the action of the play.
With the premiere of the new Disney version of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale of a spunky mermaid this year, it was a great time to present the panto version. This little mermaid, named Mariel (Aubrey Tingler,) is so excited to get to visit the surface for the first time as a birthday gift from her Father Triton (Ian Swank.) Her trusty sidekick, Bastian (Brian Polk), warns her about getting too close to these troublesome humans, which is backed up by her mermaid sisters (Lisa Singleton, Sonia Alam, Lauren Pacuit, Lucy Hurlbut, Rachel Schlaff, and Una Pereira.) Meanwhile, the handsome Prince Derek (Zachary Singer) is getting ready to set sail with his pirate mentor, Captain Arrrgh (Elizabeth Weiss), and exuberant caretaker, Dame Dusty (Andrew Harasty.) After an accident, Mariel saves an unconscious Derek and falls for him. Unfortunately for these young loves, the evil sea witch, Octavia (McKenna Kelly), has set her own sights on Derek and has hired the eager (but dim) hench-turtles, Corky (Jordyn Nicole) and Crusty (Amanda Dullin-Jones, to help her get him. Will Mariel and Derek defeat Octavia and find true love before it’s too late?
As usual, the British Players present a fun and joyous show that can be enjoyed by the entire family. This show blends classic pop songs like “Dream Lover,” “When You Say Nothing at All,” and “Somebody to Love” with parodies of other well known songs. Some highlights were “Livin’ a Mermaid’s Best Life,” set to the tune of “Livin la Vida Loca” and “Duchess Kate,” a clever reworking of Mika’s “Grace Kelly” which enjoyed a moment awhile ago as a TikTok trend. The slight tweaks to the classic story also made it fresh and funny. Kudos to the music arrangers Sara Cath and Chuck Hoag.
An excellent cast brings this story to life led aptly by its aquatic princess (Tingler). Her effervescent portrayal of Mariel adds charm to an already sweet story. She and Singer also made an adorable couple for whom the the crowd was rooting. Kelly was an excellent villain. She brought the perfect balance of menace and camp. Her hench-turtles were maybe my favorite in the entire show. Dullin-Jones and Nicole were hilarious every time they stepped flipper on stage. Harasty, Weiss, and Polk all delivered classic Panto jokes, puns, and callbacks, really enhancing the traditional humor of the panto. While all the mermaid sisters were fantastic, Pacuit stood out as the ditzy Coral.
While the British Players found themselves in a new venue this year at Silver Spring Stage, they still made excellent use of their space with an adaptive and creative set by Set/Scenic Designer, Clare Palace. Another enhancement came from the costumes by Nicola Hoag and wigs by Cathy Dunn. Hoag did a great job using color and pattern to create a large number of costumes for a big cast that were both visually stunning and functional for all the movement and physicality of the show. Dunn did an impressive job with the many wigs in the show, including the iconic bright red of the leading mer-lady. The costumes and wigs also highlighted the dynamic choreography by Shannon Cron, Mallory Leembruggen, Molly Ross, and Lisa Singleton. Director Emilia O’Connor and Assistant Director Sara Cath should be commended on a job well done, with superior accompaniment provided by Sue McElroy.
This show is appropriate for the whole family, with a special treat for any kids in attendance. This reviewer strongly recommends that you make “The Little Mermaid, a Family Pantomime” a ‘part of your world’ this holiday season.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
“The Little Mermaid, a Family Pantomime” runs through January 7, 2024, presented by The British Players at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20901. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.