The Wobbledarts, including James King (middle) as the Dame, in the panto “Hansel, Gretel and the Strolling Players,” a Royal Canadian Theatre Company production staged in Surrey and New Westminster. (submitted photo)

In Surrey panto show, ‘quite the departure’ for key players

Royal Canadian company brings ‘Hansel, Gretel and the Strolling Players’ to stage

It’s pantomime time again for Surrey-based Royal Canadian Theatre, with some key cast changes in the company’s annual show.

Following Alan Cedargreen’s retirement from the stage, James King will this year dress in drag as the Dame, the campy “female” character in a British-style panto.

For the run of Hansel, Gretel and the Strolling Players, including show dates in Surrey, King plays Lotta Wobbledart in another comedic script written by his mother, Ellie King, the company’s founder and artistic director.

“James has been performing in panto for over 20 years and has played most roles before taking over as Dame, a hugely important role,” Ellie told the Now-Leader. “He gets to wield a genuine slapstick, a prop that goes back to at least the 16th century and from which the physical form of comedy took its name.”

In another cast move, Stephen Elcheshen has taken over the “demon” role – King Raven, in this story.

Although everyone auditions for every role, Ellie King noted, James King has been the demon since the company’s first panto in 2007, with Elcheshen in the “Idle Jack” role – the children’s friend – for the same length of time.

“So this marks quite the departure for both of them,” King said. “Stephen played demon once before when James directed and didn’t play, so this is his second time in the role, whereas James is playing Dame for the first time.”

The show is staged at Surrey Arts Centre from Dec. 21 to 30 (info at tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566), and also at Anvil Centre in New Westminster on Jan. 4 and 5 (ticketsnew.ca).

CLICK HERE for Surrey show times and other details.

In King’s latest panto, Hansel and Gretel live with their father in the town of Understrudel, where the apple crop has failed for the past five years. When the silly and entertaining Strolling Players come to town, they play their part in foiling the dastardly plans of Mistress Grimm, King explained.

“While Honey Crisp and Billy fall in love, and Dame Lotta Wobbledart teaches her new students, Hansel and Gretel are led into the woods, unknowingly headed towards a dastardly fate. Can the Good Fairy, Queen Bluebird, win the day and save the children? Or will King Raven and Witch Grimm turn the children into servants forever? The audience will cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys, as well as enjoy all of the cheesy puns and jokes, music and magic that pantomime brings every year.”

The show marks the 30th panto King has written and directed in Canada. In England, she grew up watching and performing pantomime, traditionally performed at Christmas.

• RELATED STORY: Surrey Mayor’s Art Awards for King, Concord, Peninsula and Surrey Little Theatre, from June 2018.

In Hansel, Gretel and the Strolling Players, there are many family connections, with some interesting twists.

“Kerri (Norris) and Stephen Elcheshen are the parents of Aeron and Cayleigh, who play Hansel and Gretel, respectively,” King noted. “Kerri plays Livia Grimm, the main mortal bad guy, and Stephen plays King Raven, the immortal force for evil. As with all traditional British pantomimes, the battle between good and evil forms the framework of the play, so it’s kind of interesting that the kids’ parents are their worst threats!”

Other cast members include Rebecca Trotzuk (as Queen Blue Bird), Michael Widman (Englebert Strudelmeister), Charles Buettner (McIntosh), Shaun McHale (Charlie Wobbledart), Kris Williamson Dewar (Granny Smith), Rachel Craig (Honey Crisp) and Crystal Weltzin (Tiffany Grimm).

In Surrey, Royal Canadian is offering another “relaxed performance” of the show, on Thursday, Dec. 27, with all tickets priced at $8 that evening. A “visual story” of the production is posted as a PDF at surrey.ca.

“This special presentation is designed so that those with intellectual and other disabilities will feel comfortable and able to enjoy live theatre,” King explained. “RCTC was the first to bring a Relaxed Performance to Surrey, and this year is proud to welcome the Mayday Choir, a neuro-diverse choir, to entertain during the evening.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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The Elcheshen family in “Hansel, Gretel and the Strolling Players,” a Royal Canadian Theatre Company pantomime staged in Surrey and New Westminster. (submitted photo)

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