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A traditional panto to warm our merry old souls in gloomy January

“You really should do something about your dog mess problem, your majesty.” (Photo: Nathan Woods)

January 11, 2014

by Pete Streader

Some readers may think that January is too late for a pantomime. Well, the Copenhagen Theatre Circle’s reply to that would clearly be “Oh no, it isn’t!”, as  the pantomime Old King Cole gets ready for a rumbustious rabble-rousing nine-day run at the end of this month.

The Copenhagen Theatre Circle (CTC) had its origins 45 years ago, starting in 1969 with a performance of Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables at the Mercur Theatre, now known as Bremen. Although the CTC is an amateur dramatics society, it puts on performances of a consistently high standard that deserve far more recognition from the cultural elite in Copenhagen. In addition to the three or so productions a year, the CTC also have regular poetry readings, improvisation workshops and play readings. According to Frank Theakston, the chairman of the CTC, the  theatre company is enjoying an especially exciting period as the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of Copenhagen constantly brings fresh talent to the floorboards.

So, more than 70 productions later and the CTC curtain calls are louder than ever, and in line with recent years, they have decided to kick off 2014 in style with a traditional British pantomime. In December 2010 they put on a series of spirited performances with A Christmas Carol, in 2011 they had a ball with the rags-to-riches tale of Cinderella, in 2013 the talents in Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp lit up the stage, and now in 2014, it is the turn of the merry old soul himself, Old King Cole, a musical production penned by prolific pantomime playwright Paul Reakes.

Pantomime itself has been around for donkey’s years and grew out of the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition. Blended together with the institution of Victorian music hall, the modern pantomime evolved into the staple ‘same procedure as last year’ British Christmas entertainment that it is today. The cast usually includes, at the very least, a long-legged, thigh-slapping principal boy (typically played by a woman), a comically overdressed dame (played by a man) and a dastardly villain or two. Another vital uncredited member of the pantomime cast is the audience who are encouraged to boo the villains, cheer the heroes and shout out warnings of “behind you” when the mischief-making baddies are sneaking up unannounced from the rear. It’s this boisterous interactive dialogue between cast and audience that makes pantomime so irresistibly popular.

So what’s the plot? Well, the somewhat befuddled Old King Cole may be past his prime, but he has decided that it’s time to settle down and find a wife. Unfortunately the course of true love never did run smooth and the advances of the royal cook Dotty Dumplin fall on deaf ears as the  over-optimistic king sets his beady eyes on the cook’s beautiful young daughter Debbie, who just happens to be head over heels in love with Florian, the king’s aide. While these shilly-shallying shenanigans are going on, a pair of malevolent miscreants are hatching their villainous plot. The king’s evil brother, a snivelling cowardly weasel of a man, Prince Peski and his equally menacing and diabolical wife Pariah are intent on unceremoniously dethroning his unsuspecting majesty with just a little help from an enchanted pool in the forbidden forest – a pool that magically reverses the ageing process.

Auditions were held back in September and in the title role is Raymond Shinn, fresh from his successful role as Felix in the CTC production of Oscar & Felix – A New Look at The Odd Couple. Another relatively new face is Martin Popplewell, who has transformed himself from last year’s dreaded baddie, Abanazar the Great in Aladdin, to the bumbling panto dame Dottie Dumpling. Those familiar with the nursery rhyme will be pleased to hear that the ‘fiddlers three’ are present to provide musical interludes. Putting the show together is Debbie Taylor who in last year’s Aladdin put in an arresting performance as WPC Pang. As a director, she also took the CTC production of Alarms by Michael Frayn to the Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies (FEATS) in The Hague.

From the forbidden forest to the royal palace, you can expect plenty of references to the year gone by, bump into some outrageous characters, see flamboyant costumes, groan out loud at the corniest of corny jokes, sing along to rousing songs, and witness an exploding birthday cake in a highly entertaining retelling of the well-known nursery rhyme, Old King Cole.

For many Brits, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual jaunt to a panto, but all and sundry, young and old, should be able revel in the joys of this annual theatrical tradition and have a barrel of fun at Krudttønden theatre in Østerbro.

The CTC presents
Old King Cole

Krudttønden, Serridslevvej 2, Cph Ø; performances Wed-Fri 20:00, Sat-Sun 15:00, Jan 15-19, 22-26, 29-31, Feb 1; Tickets: over-12s: 140kr, under-12s: 80kr; on Jan 18-19, meet the cast after the show, www.ctcircle.dk

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