“The Three Musketeers” Closes Out Theatre Britain’s 21-Year Run in Plano

Ivan Jones plays the "dame" in this year's Theatre Britain panto // photo Tim Sporcic

Sue Birch, founder of Theatre Britain, may be moving continents and closing up her beloved Plano-based company after two decades, but not without leaving behind laughter, love and one last panto with the world premiere of Jackie Mellor-Guin’s “The Three Musketeers.”

In 1996, Sue paired up with three talented British women – all nostalgic for their childhoods back home – and brought panto to Texas. A panto is a traditional, fairytale story told in the style of a melodrama, Sue says, with something in it for everybody – and no religious context. It’s packed with corny jokes, dances and comical characters that will completely catch the audience by surprise. There’s even a ghost scene that appears out of nowhere and gender-reverse roles, where the main female is portrayed by a man (the “dame”). And the audience gets to partake in it all, learning silly songs and catchphrases.

Theatre Britain’s 2010 production of “Babes in the Woods” // photo Mark Trew
Cast members of “The Three Musketeers” by Jackie Mellor-Guin (left to right): Shay McDonald, Michael Speck, Ivan Jones, Bryan Brooks, Christopher Lew // photo Michael C Foster

Every year, there is a new script that Sue brings to life on-stage. Her role as director, she says, is to set the artistic vision for the piece, to step back and see the big picture. “It never is exactly what you think of in your head, but all these creative people bring something to it. The key is to cast the right people, the people you know can take your vision and make it a reality,” she says.

When she moves back to England, she is returning to her passion for acting, having rediscovered what it really means to be an actor. “For me and a lot of actors, it is an imperative. There isn’t anything else that feels quite like it. And you just have to do it,” she says, without hesitation.

Director Sue Birch // photo Mark Oristano

Sue always knew she wanted to be an actor but for a while, chose a different path. She worked at a software company with a daily two-hour commute. Sitting in a traffic jam one day, she suddenly decided she couldn’t do it anymore. “I took my husband to dinner and I said, ‘I want to give it all up and go train to become an actor.’ So, I did and it ended up being the best thing I ever did,” Sue says. It felt like all this weight had fallen off her shoulders, and she was free to do what she loved.

Her advice to other actors is to develop a thick skin and to not take rejection personally because it’s not personal, she says. “Being on the other side of it has taught me that not getting the role doesn’t necessarily have to do with how much talent you have. It might just be that this isn’t the role for you at this moment,” Sue says. “So, you can just never give up.”

As she prepares for her last show, she gives a special thanks to everyone who was a part of Theatre Britain all these years. “Without them, it doesn’t work,” she says. “I’m proud of what we have achieved over the years, and I know they are sad that we are going, but it is to go on a high.”

See the final show, “The Three Musketeers” at the Cox Playhouse in downtown Plano. The show runs Nov. 25 to Dec. 30, and “it’s going to be an extravaganza,” Sue says, smiling.

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