Encore Michigan

‘An Almost British Christmas’ Panto is a charmer for the whole family

Review December 06, 2021 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, MI –When you see An Almost British Christmas, this year’s panto presented by Theatre NOVA, you can, if you are a sentimental Dickens enthusiast like me, imagine that you are somewhere in Picadilly Circus in London watching three gritty and gutsy actors entertain us with a Christmas story whilst the aroma of roasting chestnuts fill the air with whiffs of pine wafting through the street from the tree sellers.

“Panto” is short for “pantomime,” but do not confuse this with the work of mimes. The actors, Dan Morrison, Bryana Hall and Monica Spencer, are all very much heard, even without face mics in Theatre NOVA’s intimate performance space. To understand the panto, lets consult an actual definition, stiff as it might be: “a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation.”

Add to the formula that one of the actors should be a male who performs in drag, which Dan Morrison does with grace, aplomb and a spiked heels.

The story is a build upon of Rudolph The Rednose Reindeer complete with characters such as The Abominable Snowman, Santa, Herbie the Elf Dentist, Island of Misfit Toys. It all takes place on Christmas Eve. Along the way of telling and acting out the story are puns and amusing references to our current state of affairs. Morrison, for example, blows his nose at one point, and he is quickly offered a pump of hand sanitizer by an elf.

There are pop cultur references that you have to strain to comprehend sometimes as they are dropped in to the script like little stocking stuffers around current events and politics, but nothing over the top annoy either side of the political spectrum. Indeed, the aim of the panto is to be accessible by both kids on the level of being wowed by the energy on stage and the familiar stories, but also appreciated by the grownups for some subtle bits that the kids won’t get. In this way, it is like the successful formula of the original Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons, which have entertained both kids and their parents for decades.

Our three actors work beautifully together. And to see and feel the stories being acted out just a few feet on front of you is a treat greater than just staring at a TV or computer screen with a candy cane hanging out of your mouth.

Theatre NOVA requires that all patrons present a vax card or new COVID test result, and stay masked throughout the performance. So, everyone is as protected as they can be.

Live theatre is inching back into our lives…thank goodness. And An Almost British Christmas is a perfect way to get back into the season and give kids a different kind of experience than what they will get on big screens and small.

Directed by Carla Milarch, with music direction by R. MacKenzie Lewis.

From The Theatre:

For the health, safety, and well-being of our patrons, staff, and artists, Theatre NOVA’s current COVID-19 policy requires patrons to present proof of vaccination and wear a mask while in the building. Children under 12 must be vaccinated or parents must present proof of negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 48 hours of the performance start time. We are currently limiting our seating capacity to 60% to allow social distancing. This policy is subject to change at any time, following fluctuating local, state, and federal guidelines. Please check our current policy before your scheduled performance date at www.theatrenova.org.

Week of 1/17/2022

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