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Dallas' main panto purveyor Theatre Britain closing after two decades

Dallas' main panto purveyor Theatre Britain closing after two decades

Beauty and the Beast panto at Theatre Britain
Theatre Britain's panto Beauty and the Beast in 2014. Photo by Mark Trew

After more than two decades of performing in Dallas and Plano, Theatre Britain will close after its 2017 season, artistic director and executive producer Sue Birch announced on the company's Facebook page.

Birch, a UK native, was a volunteer when the nonprofit theater company was formed in 1996 by fellow Brits Jackie Mellor-Guin and Pauline Bourqui. The original mission was “to promote British theatre in its many and varied forms with particular emphasis on the unique medium of British pantomime (panto).” Birch and her husband, Ian (who served as production manager), plan to return to the UK in early 2018, and the Theatre Britain board decided to shutter the company in their absence.

Theatre Britain was one of the few theater companies in America to regularly produce panto, and the only theater company in North Texas devoted to producing exclusively British work. As Birch herself describes it, "A panto is a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters, and lots of audience participation." It's a popular form of entertainment in the UK, especially during the holidays.

The company's first panto, The Sleeping Beauty, was written by Mellor-Guin and produced at the Plaza Theater in Carrollton. By 1998, the two founders had moved on and the company briefly went dark.

Birch, who trained at Oxford School of Drama and was a professional actor before moving to Dallas in 1995 for her husband's work, had been forced to remain a volunteer until her work visa and green card came through. In 2002, she revived Theatre Britain by producing The Mysterious Mr. Love by Karoline Leach, and the company remained in residence at KD Studio Theatre in Dallas through 2009. In 2010, they moved to the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano.

The panto The Three Musketeers, also written by Mellor-Guin, will be Theatre Britain's final show, playing November 25-December 30. Four other shows complete the 2017 season, including the farce Will You Still Love Me in the Morning?, which opens on February 10 and runs through March 5. The remaining shows are: Let It Be Me (April 7-30), Nobody's Perfect (June 23-July 16), and Winston's Birthday (September 8-October 1).

"I was one of the founders of Theatre Britain in 1996 and I am proud of all that has been achieved," writes Birch on Facebook. "We have such wonderful designers, an outstanding crew, talented actors walk our stage, and we have dedicated volunteers and friends. We have patrons who have been with us since the beginning and many who have only just joined us. I thank you all for everything you have done to make Theatre Britain such a success."

She also notes that 2016 saw record attendance and that Theatre Britain will close fiscally strong and debt-free.