SURREY â€” There’s a reason Ellie King is heralded as the Queen of the Pantomime.
King – artistic director for Royal Canadian Theatre Company (RCTC), which is putting on Sleeping Beauty the panto at Surrey Arts Centre starting this weekend – has been involved in pantomime since she was a wee one in her home country of Britain.
"I was on stage when I was twoand-a-half in a panto, and I grew up doing it in Britain," King told the Now over the phone. "I learned from the horse’s mouth, if you would."
Since moving to Canada and starting up her own theatre company, King has been rewriting the scripts to old fairy tales and turning them into traditional pantomimes, and that’s going on 26 years strong.
For those in the dark about ye olde tradition of panto, it’s a musical, family-friendly comedy characterized by groan-worthy jokes, cross-dressing actors and is very loosely-based on a well-known fairytale.
"I rewrite all the scripts myself, from scratch," King said confidently, "unless I’m rewriting one of my own, but I still consider it from scratch."
This is the first time Sleeping Beauty is being adapted in the tradition for RCTC.
The play stars 75-year-old Alan Cedargreen as the dame Nurse Bizzie Lizzie, Erin Marshall as Fairy Snowdrop, Stephen Elcheshen as Demon Hemlock, Melissa Paras as Princess Rosebud, Andie Francis as Prince Indigo and Kerri Norris as the evil Fairy Nightshade.
The panto begins Friday (Dec. 19) and runs until Dec. 27 at Surrey Arts Centre.
"Some people trumpet their scripts as being world premieres, so I guess I have 26 years of world premieres going for me," she said with a laugh.
Though pantomimes are made anew each Christmas season, King says, to do it right, there are a few mainstays in the custom.
"One of the things about panto is that the lines are there and you colour inside them, but you change the colours if you want. That’s kind of how it works," she explained.
Those "lines" refer to the things that remain constant, like the personal journey narrative, the good versus evil storyline and classic characters.
"The demon and fairy, those are essential elements for any pantomime, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, because that harks back to the medieval morality plays. If you don’t have a demon and you don’t have a fairy, then you don’t have a panto.There are certain rules that you have to observe and that’s one of them," King said resolvedly.
While other pantomimes happening this season are great to enjoy and good for a laugh, King says she takes her history quite seriously. But that’s not to say she hasn’t modernized a few characters, like the "feisty" princess, and a rewritten journey for the prince.
"My little burning flame is to keep alive the real McCoy. I’m not denigrating what other people do, but a lot of people stick a man in a dress and think they’ve got a panto and they don’t. It really does need to hark back to the medieval morality plays, with the good versus evil, hell’s mouth and paradise and the cross-dressing that has a historical basis."
If you pay close attention, King says, attending her panto is almost like a history lesson.
"I love theatre in general, and I love history, and panto retains within it some historical forms of theatre that have been lost elsewhere – if you do it right," King said.
Tickets for Sleeping Beauty are $27.85 for adults, $17.85 for kids and can be purchased by calling 604-501-5566.