SURREY — As the dark, cold days of winter descend upon us, we deck out the season with festive lighting, holiday spirits, religious and secular celebrations and traditions – and traditional British Pantomimes in our theatres.
Pantomimes are very popular this season, and most cities and towns throughout the U.K. have one at this time of year.
Although very successful in Canada, this very British art form (yes, it is art), hasn’t made much of an impact on our cousins to the south, although in 1868 a production of “Humpty Dumpty” ran for more than 1,200 performances at the Olympic Theatre in New York, making it the most successful pantomime in American history. Good to know.
Pantomimes today have many features of the original format, predominantly aimed at children and based on a popular fairy tale or folk legend. One of the most popular is “Cinderella,” and you can catch the White Rock Players version of this panto from Dec. 4 to Jan. 2 at the Coast Capital Playhouse.
While Britian’s Francis Laidler took the title “King of Pantomimes” in the 1930s, producing shows at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, and eventually all over the U.K., the subjects on offer in the 1930s and 1940s included those now fallen from popularity like “Goody Two Shoes,” “Humpty Dumpty” and “Red Riding Hood.” Some popular titles like “Puss in Boots,” “Mother Goose” and “Robinson Crusoe” are making a revival in popularity by local theatre groups, including Royal Canadian Theatre Company and the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society (FVGSS).
Well, if Laidler had the title of “King of the Pantomimes” then our Ellie King is definitely the “Queen of Pantomimes.” I gave her that title many years ago, and King is passionate about this traditional genre. Born in the U.K., King keeps the panto tradition very authentic and yet relevant to modern audiences. This year her version of “Puss in Boots” runs at Surrey Arts Centre from Dec. 18 to 28. It’s a Royal Canadian Theatre Company production.
FVGSS is the first out of the pack of pantos to go onstage. The company’s version of the popular panto “Jack and the Beanstalk” runs at Surrey Arts Centre from Nov. 25 to Dec. 6 with both evening performances (at 7:30 p.m.) and Saturday-Sunday matinees (3 p.m.).
This longstanding community theatre society has its own brand of panto and doesn’t always strictly adhere to the panto precepts. No matter. Times change and you betcha, even a panto can change format slightly over hundreds of years.
The Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s annual panto is once again filled with music, dance, corny jokes, fairy-tale sets and colourful costumes. Lots of music and dance, too, by the way, as this is a hallmark of FVGSS productions.
The cast features Michelle Gaetz (Jack), who we last saw as the prince in 2014’s “The Frog Princess.” Also featured are FVGSS regular Samantha Andrews as Jack’s brother, Silly Billy, and Roger Kettyls (a newcomer to the society, although not new to the dame’s clothing) as Dame Trot. Also new to the group are Elizabeth Seaman (Princess Melanie), Deanne Ratzlaff (Vegetable Fairy), Paige Thomsen (Goosepimple, Fleshcreep’s helper), Waldon Hoggatt (Clarence Clanger, town crier) and Dane Ogilvie (voice of Giant Blunderbore). Mike Balser is the artistic director, Timothy Tucker is music director and Carol Seitz contributes the choreography.
This family-friendly fare is again comprised of family members – siblings, parents and children, husbands and wives – choosing to spend their time together to bring entertainment to other families. And more families will be able to afford to see this show this season, as production manager Lyn Verra-Lay is offering what she calls “retro pricing.” Tickets are only $20 for adults, and students and seniors can see the show for $15.
Also, the Wednesday/Thursday performances are once again designated as Guide and Scout nights, with $10 tickets for Brownies, Girl Guides, Scouts, Beavers and the like. Plus, a group of 10 can attend for the price of eight. Call the box office at 604 501-5566 to get tickets. Service charges do apply.
FVGSS is assisting the Surrey Christmas Bureau again this year by collecting new, unwrapped toys. Everyone is welcome to bring an item to place under the beanstalk to help us make some Christmas magic – no Christmas tree, just a giant beanstalk in the lobby. Makes sense.
And if you admire the leaves on the beanstalk, note that I created them. Ho ho ho – or should that be Fee Fie Fo Fun? Yes, fun.