Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots
By Ben Crocker. Tea Tree Players (SA). 23 November-8 December, 2018

Puss in Boots is this year’s pantomime by the Tea Tree Players, one of the oldest community theatre groups in Adelaide. Written by Ben Crocker and directed by Robert Andrews, and with a cast of thirty mostly young people, it is an absolute delight.

Puss in Boots is one of the oldest fairy tales, originally appearing in Italy in the mid-16th Century. It is a ’rags to riches’ tale about a clever cat that is a ‘trickster’ and uses cunning and deceit to help his poor master win the hand of a princess. It was, however, the inclusion of this tale in Charles Perrault’s Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times (also known as Mother Goose Tales), published in Paris 1697 that catapulted the character to international status, where it has remained ever since.

The version of Puss in Boots by Ben Crocker follows the original tale with the addition of modern elements. This includes two fairies, a good one and a bad one, and a villainous ogre called Grimgrab. These modern elements have their genesis in traditional  ‘pantomime’, one of the oldest forms of popular theatre, which became a major feature in ‘Western’ theatre during the annual Christmas season.

Ben Crocker’s Puss in Boots honours many of the conventions of traditional ‘pantomime’. This includes the ‘Principle Boy’, in this case Jack, being played by a woman, and the ‘Panto Dame’. The ‘Panto Dame’ is played by a man, and in this production it is the character of Queen Wendy, wonderfully played by *Barry Hill.

Other ‘pantomime’ conventions include audience participation such as ‘hissing the villain’ whenever he or she appears, and the ‘He’s behind you’ routine. It is a testament to the strength of this production that in all these ‘classic’ conventions the audience responded vigorously, adding to the sheer fun.

Like most ‘pantomimes’ Puss in Boots is on an epic scale, with numerous characters, songs, and comic routines. That this all works, and works extremely well in this production, is due to the commitment of the Tea Tree Players’ creative team, led by Robert Andrews and Ben Crocker, and the large company of actors and crew.

It is wonderful to watch a modern day ‘pantomime’ that fully acknowledges and respects the ‘classical’ pantomime form. An excellent example of an ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. Recommended.

Tony Knight

*Barry Hill is a Stage Whispers reviewer

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