Steamy Sarah (played by Len Mustard)

REVIEW: Dick Whittington brings the laughs

Qualicum Beach pantomime a hit with the audience on opening night

Steamy Sarah (played by ECHO Players’ veteran Len Mustard) said she didn’t want to be on the front page of The NEWS, so instead she’s made it to the arts front.

Although the play is called Dick Whittington and follows Whittington (played by Ashlee Sales), Steamy Sarah definitely got the most laughs from the audience with her — or his — corny, and occasionally inappropriate,  jokes. The latter will usually go over the younger ones’ heads.

As she makes her entrance onto the Village Theatre stage in her multi-coloured striped dress and platform heels, she proudly informs the audience that she’s wearing her new sheepdog bra from Coombs.

Throughout the two-and-a-half hour play with a 20-minute intermission, there were plenty of shout outs to local businesses, and lyrics in a song were changed from seaside to “Oceanside.” Dick Whittington had even travelled to London from Qualicum Beach.

Whittington makes a great entrance a few minutes into the play, singing down the aisle. This is helped by Sales’ great voice.

The reason Whittington is played by a women dates back to the history of the pantomime.

Pantomimes are popular in the United Kingdom and are usually performed around Christmastime as family entertainment.

The origins of the “panto” are found in the middle ages and incorporate dramatic conventions o the Italian “commedia dell’arte” such as stock characters (characters who don’t have much depth and can usually be easily parodied) such as Mr. Mussel (played by Ian Morton) and Captain Cockle (played by Gerry Fraser).

Both Mr. Mussel and Captain Cockle definitely bring a Monty Python and Three Stooges influence to this pantomime.

There’s even a scene where the special guest — opening night was Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell —gives a lecture on the history of comedy. While the slapstick comedy is predictable, it was funny nonetheless.

English theatres and music halls picked up on the comedy, the stock characters and the flamboyant action, and added music songs, fairytales and the convention of cross-dressing since the Victorians wouldn’t allow public displays of women’s legs, but women could play a trouser role. Hence the role of Steamy Sarah and Dick Whittington are played by Mustard and Sales respectively.

Dick Whittington (played by Ashlee Sales) singing on opening night.          — Lauren Collins photo

Before the play, the audience is instructed to “boo” or cheer at certain parts or when the audience encourages them. The audience participation was there, for sure, but somewhere along the way that got lost in translation, and audience members were booing or yelling too soon or too much.

One of the things the audience is supposed to yell, is “Go water the wose!” after Idle Jack (played by Scott Murray) yawns. However most of the audience, kids and adults alike, were shouting over Idle Jack before the line was even over.

Idle Jack told the audience, with a laugh, that if they kept doing that, we’d be there all night. After a while, he just gave up.

The same goes for booing the Queen Rat (played by Helen Hill-Tout). Many of her lines were lost to the audience’s yells.

While some of the jokes were geared toward the adults, Dick Whittington is definitely a family affair with plenty of songs, dancing and loveable characters.

For a large cast, that was relatively new to the ECHO Players stage, the actors did well remembering their lines and choreography.

Dick Whittington is playing at the Village Theatre (110 W. Second Ave., Qualicum Beach) until Dec. 31.

For more information on tickets and show times, visit www.echoplayers.ca or call 250-752-3522.

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