For the past 30 years in theatre, British import Alan Cedargreen has always played the Dame.
Yes, that means Cedargreen dresses up in drag – in some of the most outlandish women’s clothing, sporting some of the most absurd wigs, and pasting on some of most atrocious makeup imaginable to play a campy female character in a British-style pantomime (pantos).
The 78-year-old Willougby man has “absolutely loved doing it” but is preparing to hang up his garter belt and corset in another year.
But, he insists he can’t do that before he gets the role right.
Of the past 30 years playing the dame in a wide variety of pantos around the Lower Mainland, 26 of those years he has done under the direction of fellow Langley thespain and panto fanatic Ellie King. And according to King – Cedargreen is not yet ready for retirement.
“Ellie said I have to keep doing it until I get it right. I guess I haven’t got it right yet,” he explained with a chuckle.
“I guess I have my work cut out for me.”
The pair performed pantos together first at Metro Theatre in Vancouver, later at the Burr Theatre in New Westminster, and the past 10 years in King’s own unit, the Royal Canadian Theatre Company.
This year, the RCTC is presenting a pantomime of Beauty and the Beast, written and directed by King. It shows in Surrey and Maple Ridge, between now and New Year’s Eve.
Cedargreen grew up watching pantos every Christmas in England. In a time before televisions, live theatre was one of the few entertainment options available, and pantos in particular were a family ritual during the holiday season, he explained.
Unlike many members of his family who seemed to attend out of obligation or boredom, Cedargreen was mesmerized by all the music, the interaction with the audience, and the general comedic and slapstick nature of the pantos.
“For me, this is Christmas,” he said, noting that his character usually ends up with a cream pie in the face at some point in the show – and he asked if there’s anything more festive and holiday like than cream dripping down a makeup layered face.
Admittedly, the first panto production he saw as a child had a super giant spider descend from the rafters and almost land on his head – or so it seemed. He remembers being petrified, and sometimes wonders why he ever came back.
Nevertheless, he loved this form of theatre, and after six years in the merchant navy, some time stewarding on passenger liners, singing and playing guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll and in his spare time, and spending more than half a dozen years living in Australia, he opted to move to and settle in Canada.
Fast forward to the late 1980s – and not having given theatre, music, or performing in general much thought – he allowed himself to be dragged out to auditions for Theatre Under The Stars’ (TUTS) performance of Oliver.
He was cast almost instantly, because of his British accent.
And, that was it. He was hooked on theatre.
But as for how Cedargreen “fell into” the role of the dame, he said that was totally unexpected.
“I just joked one day that I wanted to play the dame… I said something about wanting to dress up in the costume,” he recounted. Next thing he knew, his world was forever changed.
Making it a family tradition?
Now, Cedargreen is totally immersed in the world of pantos, and it is a rewarding part of his life he has tried sharing with his wife, their daughter, and their two grandchildren.
Admittedly, while they attend and seem to enjoy the annual productions, Cedargreen said he’s the only “odd one” in the family who truly loves the world of theatre.
That said, his six-year-old granddaughter is expressing interested, always anxious to get up on stage and sing with grandpa.
“She might have been bitten the bug,” Cedargreen said of his granddaughter’s willingness to get up and sing in the panto finale – event without being invited on stage.
“Most of may family think I’m crazy,” he said. But he’s willing to live with that label.
“It’s just so worthwhile,” he said of the pantomimes. He and the other 28-member cast have been rehearsing since the beginning of October for this week’s opening of the show.
Even though Cedargreen is planning to retire after next year’s show, and he is attempting to help find his replacement, Cedargreen knows he won’t be able to completely leave the world of pantomime or RCTC behind.
He’ll be there to socialize, just not to work, he said, vowing to keep involved a bit behind the scenes.
Although he’s not able to dance like he once did, due to a bum knee, Cedargreen insists that otherwise he feels like a 40 year old.
“That’s why I think I should quit while I’m ahead,” he said. “You know, I want to go off on a high note.”
The draw for him has been the singing, the dancing, the comedy – but most of all it’s the people who keep him coming back.
“For me, it’s the camaraderie of the whole cast, whether it’s a small role or a large role – everyone becomes a family,” he said, noting that year after year many of those “family members” come back year after year – just look at him.
Fast facts about the show
Beauty and the Beast runs at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16, 17, and 23, as well as 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 17, 18, and 26, at the Surrey Arts Centre, 13750 88th Ave. Tickets are available at tickets.surrey.ca.
RCTC is also hosting a few performances across the river in Maple Ridge, 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 30, and at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, with tickets at theactmapleridge.org.
More information is also available at rctheatreco.com.
“It’s family entertainment for all ages,” with cast members as young as four, and as old as him – nearly 80.
“That’s the thing with panto, the audience is dragged into it with cheering on the good guy and booing the bad guy – it’s especially great to see the reaction from the children. They become so engaged,” Cedargreen said, hoping locals will come out during the holiday season to see this year’s show.
Storyline sneak peek
This show, written and directed by King, offers signature-style performances that audiences have grown to “know and love.”
As always with a King production, there’s a twist on the classic tales of love, bravery, and second chances.
Set in the town of Licketysplitz, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of the local merchant – Herr Brush – who has two lovely daughters.
All looks rosy until a shipment of goods fails to arrive and he’s left destitute with nowhere to turn.
His youngest daughter – the beautiful Isabella – saves the day but at such a price. To rescue her family from poverty, she becomes the only companion to the hideous beast – in his old and lonely castle, with no hope of escape. Until…
King insists telling much more would be giving away the story, and she’s not willing to do that.
“Suffice it to say there’s a happy ending, but on the way, there’s original music, corny old jokes, brilliant special effects, spectacular costumes, and all the sparkling magic you’ve come to expect from RCTC’s famed Christmas pantos,” King said.