MINTY: It’s panto season again, starting with Santa Claus

It’s pantomime season again. The traditional English pantomime is a perfect piece of theatre for community theatre groups to produce. The over-the-top characters, colourful costumes, song, dance and silly story line make the pantomime an amicable theatre choice for families. The pantomime is now almost as popular here as it is in England, and many fans of these farcical fairy tales attend at least one pantomime every year.

Still, there are many, many potential panto people out there who haven’t discovered this genre yet – and get very confused by the name. A pantomime is in no way related to, or even similar to, mime. No black tights with white face or wordless action. A pantomime is full of sound and movement and usually tells a story loosely based on a favoured fairy tale. Cheer the hero – usually the principal boy, played by a girl. Laugh with the dame – always done in drag. Sing along with the lyrics when audience participation is invited.

There are other rules for this genre.

There is always a good fairy, and some demon. Good prevails, and even the villain of the piece might learn to live happily ever after.

Locally, our theatre groups have evolved their own traditions. The Fraser Valley Gilbert Sullivan Society has become known for pantos full of song and dance. They are also the first of the "big three" pantos to get to the stage locally.

This year, FVGSS is presenting another original scripted piece, Santa Claus the Panto. This panto continues the family-centered tradition of the society. Santa Claus the Panto opens at Surrey Arts Centre on Nov. 26 and runs to Dec. 7, Wednesdays through Sundays. Wednesdays and Thursdays are the traditional Brownie/Guide/Scout/Beavers nights, with large groups of kids attending. Fair warning. Tickets are available at the box office, 604-501-5566.

"There are many family ties in this panto," says co-producer Lyn Verra-Lay. Her daughter, Elisabeth, is assistant choreographer, and husband Steve is in the band. Director Dann Wilhelm’s dad, Hennie, is also in the band. Coproducer and co-author Mike Balser has his very talented wife, Omanie, are designing sets. The script also got assistance from father-daughter duo Jeff and Hannah Christiansen (they are also cast members). Board member Barbie Warwick and both daughters, Frannie and Lois, are all part of this energetic cast.

The story has a surprise ending, but it does take a look at a Santa who wants to change with the times. Can the world accept a low-fat, iPhone using, yoga-practicing Santa? Can the evil coal salesman convince Santa that more kids are naughty than nice? All is revealed.

Santa Claus the Panto is partnering with Surrey Christmas Bureau this year. Please bring an unwrapped new toy when you attend the performance. The toys will go to Surrey families to make their season a bit brighter.

Elsewhere, White Rock Players’ Club, now in its 70th season, has been one of the few community theatres to own and operate its own building, producing five shows every season – comedies, thrillers, dramas and the popular Christmas pantomime, a local tradition since 1954.

Wow. That’s a lot of pantos over a lot of years. The players have their own panto traditions and usually fill the theatre in their month-long run.

The group’s Christmas pantomime this year is Babes in the Wood, by Jack Horner. Wonder if that is the same Jack Horner who was sat in the corner eating his curds and whey. Well, it could be as almost anything goes in a panto! Almost.

Join Jack, Jill, Mother Hubbard, Simple Simon and everyone’s favourite pantomime giraffe (Shenanigans) on this epic adventure to save the babes in the woods and return music and happiness to Novelbrooke.

The show is directed by Lisa Pavilionis, produced by Fred Partridge and stars Hunter Golden as the Demon, Ryan Elliot as Duke Don Darling and Scott Townsend as Simple Simon (all from White Rock). Cast members from Surrey are Mackenzie Claus as Jill, Lionel Rust as Pip, Kay Ariel Lozada as Fairy Twinkle, Emma Harvery as Squeak and Bryce Mills as Mother Hubbard; Coquitlam’s YooRa Kang plays Jack.

All shows are at Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd., White Rock, starting on Dec. 3. For all show dates, ticket information and more, call 604-536-7535 or visit Whiterockplayers.ca.

The last panto to run locally is Ellie King’s Sleeping Beauty. You can find this Royal Canadian Theatre Company production at Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage from Dec. 19 to 28, with five scheduled matinees. Group rates are available; phone the arts centre box office at 604-501-5566.

Many years ago, I dubbed Ellie King as "the Queen of Pantos." This British transplant grew up steeped in the pantomime tradition, and her scripts keep the genre true to tradition. She calls this show "fabulous family fun," and since this production does run past Christmas, tickets to this show could make a great gift.

Keep the traditions alive and well. Go see a pantomime or two. I actually went to four last year – I’m still sane. I love pantos because they are not pretentious, have large casts and involve as many people as possible, including the audience. It’s just fun and entertaining, and it really doesn’t make any sense most of the time. How can you not love that?

A Christmas tradition presented by the Lyric Singers of Surrey is the Boar’s Head Medieval Dinner. This medieval madrigal feast of food and song has an almost 700-year history. Peter Rahn, who co-ordinates this event for the Lyric Singers, says "you get it all: dinner, pageantry, music theatre."

Yes, there is a Boar’s head – but it is not eaten, just served. It is a bit more difficult to find wild boar these days. So, there is some improvisation allowed. The choir adds some male voices and instruments, and the children’s choir also presents some songs on their own.

This year, the dinner is on Nov. 29, starting at 7 p.m. at Bethany Newton United Church, 14852 60th Ave., Surrey. Tickets are $40, credit cards are accepted. Phone the church at 604-599-6803. Be prepared to be entertained as you eat your way through a traditional medieval feast.

melminty@telus.net

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