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Featuring cross-dressing leads, rowdy humor and musical performances, The British Players’ presentation of the pantomime “Puss in Boots” is anything but quiet and stuck in the box.
Often confused with silent miming, British pantomime is a boisterous musical-comedy theatrical production where both the male and female lead roles are played by the opposite gender, Director Pauline Griller-Mitchell says.
“It’s full of double entendres that sometimes the audience gets, sometimes it doesn’t” she says.
Usually performed on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) in England, the tradition dates to as early as the 18th century when it was considered a low form of opera.
Now the productions are usually family-friendly fairytale stories that have nothing to do with Christmas and follow a script that can be adapted by the director, Griller-Mitchell says. For the production of “Puss in Boots,” she chose to add references to the Kensington Town Council and modern music like “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang.
Since starring as Prince Charming in her first pantomime in 1989, Eileen Kent has never played a female role. The producer of “Puss and Boots,” Kent also will fill in as a small male role for one performance.
“For me, it has to do with the costumes,” Kent says about getting in to character. “I also like to have facial hair. That makes a difference. I put on a mustache and it helps me to be rough and tumbly.”
The British Players were originally formed as the British Embassy Players in 1964 and used to require the majority of their members to be of British heritage, says Griller-Mitchell who was born in London and now lives in Silver Spring. The requirement has been dropped since the group moved to Kensington Town Hall and the group boasts more than 250 members.
Playing the villainous Gruesome, the right-hand man of Crunchbones the ogre, is Ed Vilade. Since he was born in Gloucester, England, Vilade felt that joining The British Players was a good way to explore his heritage.
“Being from England and knowing what panto was, I just wanted to take a crack at it,” he says.
The best part about pantomime performances are that they transport the audience to a silly world that requires the audience to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, Vilade says.
“If you stop to think about anything that is going on, you’re going to say ‘that doesn’t make sense,’” he says. “But of course, it’s not supposed to make sense. It is full of holes — after all, there is no dramatics cohesion. It is just a real good time.”
The British Players will present “Puss in Boots” at 8 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturdayand 2 p.m. Sunday at Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell St., Kensington. Performances run Friday through Sunday through Dec. 18. Tickets range from $12 to $20. Visit http://britishplayers.org.