When it comes to pantomime, people tend to either love it or hate it. With over the top costumes, comedy one-liners and audience interaction, it’s not quite serious theatre, but the vibe is infectious and especially popular with children – five minutes in and you’ll be shouting, ‘He’s behind you’ with the rest of the audience.
Ian Lacey has been involved with the Doha Players for over four years and joined the board as the production chair in January 2008. An associate teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University by day, he’s also director of the drama group’s latest production, Dick Whittington & His Cat, by night. ‘We are currently rehearsing three times a week, but this will increase in the final two weeks to almost every day,’ he says.
No stranger to the world of theatre, Lacey has played a pivotal role in numerous productions during his time in Doha and is quick to point out that he is just as comfortable off the stage as he is on it. ‘I act as well, sometimes in a play I’m directing,’ he says. ‘For the Doha Players I played the evil Cassim in Sinbad in February 2007 (directed by Gill Hope with whom I’m directing Dick Whittington & His Cat); Old King Cole in The Wishing Well in December 2008, and Baron Hardup in Cinders: The True Story, which was our pantomime last December. I also played the part of Polonius in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in May 2010.’
The story of Dick Whittington & His Cat follows the main character on his way to London to make his fortune, creating friends and enemies along the way. One of these friends is a cat called Tommy, who accompanies him on his journey and ultimately plays a rather important part in helping Dick achieve the position of Lord Mayor of London, as foretold by some chanting London bells. Unlike other pantomimes, which come straight out of a fairytale, there is actually an element of truth to this story – a former Lord Mayor of London in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, Richard Whittington, is the inspiration for the story.
‘I chose Dick Whittington for numerous reasons,’ Ian reveals, ‘Partly because I knew this particular version of the story, having directed it five years ago. But as well as that, it is a fun story that offers more opportunities for actors than do many pantomimes and, perhaps somewhat appropriately for Qatar, it involves a pantomime camel. Panto is a special type of theatre which engages with the audience at many levels, often through its use of double entendres and its cultural or local references.’
But, while pantomime may be one of the more light-hearted genres of theatre, Ian is quick to point out that when it comes to the production, at least, it needs to be taken seriously: ‘Comedy has to be done well to be effective. That means that it must be performed seriously, not in a way that says “it doesn’t matter what we do, because it’s only panto”. To be good, all forms of theatre need to be taken seriously; jokes only work with correct timing, and singing and dancing must be done seriously to achieve the required effect. Perhaps the greatest challenge to actors in panto is the need for some characters to engage with the audience, while remaining in character; in so doing dispensing with the “fourth wall”, which is basically the one facing the audience.’
Both the principal boy, Dick Whittington, and the principal girl, Whittington’s love interest Alice Esmerelda, are played by Doha Players newcomers Kelly Mordecai and Penny Ramsey. Lacey says there will be plenty of songs to join in with, a dastardly villain to boo and hiss at, not to mention a panto dame that will have the audience in stitches. So, it’s time to get into the festive spirit, deposit any preconceptions about pantomime into a box marked ‘Scrooge’ and head down to the College of the North Atlantic for some proper panto cheer.
Doha Players will perform Dick Whittington & His Cat from December 9-11 at the College of the North Atlantic. Tickets are available from The One in Landmark and Villaggio Malls and at www.dohaplayers.com