Scott Palmer and crew are at it again with a new twist on an old favorite

by:  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CASEY CAMPBELL -  Patrick Spike (aka Phoebe Reece) is one of the women of Farndale who are helping Bag&Baggage stage a less-than-traditional version of Dickens A Christmas Carol.This winter, Bag&Baggage Director Scott Palmer wanted to create a holiday production that was equally heartfelt and funny, if not more hilarious than last year's adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

As luck would have it, the famously incompetent English ladies of Farndale Avenue’s Dramatic Society are in town on an intercultural exchange from the UK. And they have agreed to produce a Christmas classic of their own at the Hillsboro theater company.

In the very British holiday tradition of Pantomime “panto” (song, dance, cross-dressing, slapstick and audience interaction), Bag&Baggage tops their over-the-top entertainment tradition with “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of A Christmas Carol.”

Bag&Baggage’s new take on “A Christmas Carol” opens tomorrow night and runs through Dec. 23 in Hillsboro.

Everything imaginable goes wrong for the four disaster-prone ladies of Farndale, from misplaced costumes to collapsing scenery, line mix-ups and quarrels erupting on stage. The somewhat reluctant stage manager, Gordon, played by Rosalind Fell, tries to keep it all together in this hilarious, frantic comedy.

"Think 'Downton Abbey' meets 'The Three Stooges' … in drag," reads the Bag&Baggage press release.

Performing in wigs and tights are Patrick Spike as Phoebe Reece, Ian Armstrong as Thelma, Sean Powell as Mercedes, and Tylor Neist as Felicity.

“Men playing women in Christmas shows is a very English tradition,” said Palmer, who had a challenging yet hilarious time directing this season’s Christmas classic.

Getting the guys to sing and dance in heels was particularly daring, he said. “It’s difficult to find good heels for a man who wears a size 13 shoe.”

About half the men in the Christmas Carol cast had experience with cross-dressing roles, Palmer said, but others had never strutted the stage in heels and initially struggled to keep their balance.

All the actors developed a thick English accent for a show that features laugh-a-minute jokes and silly musical numbers.

As foreigners to the American suburbs, the middle-aged, church-going ladies of Farndale wonder why a man named Fred Meyer keeps such a large office and why the International house doesn’t serve anything British.

“It’s incredibly funny,” said Palmer, “The slapstick humor, the word play is all hilarious.” The show “encapsulates the feelings of the season,” he said.

Audiences familiar and unfamiliar with Bag&Baggage’s alternative twists to traditional theater will enjoy some of the show’s prouder moments, said Palmer.

Like the four-and-a-half minute spoof of Michael Flatley’s leg-flailing Lord of the Dance and Bag&Baggage’s impression of the adorably sad orphan child, Tiny Tim. “It is without question one of the funniest things I have seen in my life … ever,” Palmer said.

“We had a hard time keeping it together during rehearsals.”

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