Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s 2019 panto, “Snow White,” features (from left) Crystal Weltzin as Princess Rose Red, Jackie Bruce as Prince Roland of Romanzia and Jodie Aguinaldo as Snow White. (submitted photo: Brian Giebelhaus)

MINTY: After ‘Snow White,’ Ellie King plans to put panto direction behind her

The show’s run at Surrey Arts Centre includes ‘relaxed’ performances

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

“It’s behind you!”

This audience shout-out phrase can be heard ringing out in every theatre that hosts a traditional English pantomime. The hero doesn’t seem to be able to find the villain who is skulking around and cleverly moves so the hero doesn’t see the villain – or bad fairy, or whatever the script calls for in this moment. Usually based on a fairy tale, the panto has become a beloved tradition in this area.

The first panto to arrive for us this season was Cinderalla at Surrey Arts Centre, presented by FVGSS, a Musical Theatre Society. It was absolutely magical – among the best productions this society has done in recent years. Sadly, this production is behind us now, but it’s not too late to get in on the family fun of a panto.

• READ MORE: No magic wand to create ’70s-themed ‘Cinderella’ panto in Surrey.

The panto Snow White comes to Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage starting Friday (Dec. 20), for seven performances. Presented by Royal Canadian Theatre Company, this is the very first time RCTC has produced Snow White – hard to believe, but there it is. This is a very special panto presentation, as it will be the last one directed by RCTC founder and driving force, Ellie King. The “Queen of Pantos” is ready to pass the panto baton on to the next generation.

“This production marks 30 years since I wrote and directed my first traditional British pantomime here in beautiful B.C. at the Metro Theatre,” King says. At that time there were just three pantos each year – at Metro, White Rock and FVGSS. Today, here are very many more. This is not surprising given how popular they are! But King is retiring from panto-land after being involved in panto productions for seven decades.

She grew up on stage in England from the age of two-and-a-half, performing in a panto every year, playing everything (except ‘Dame’), from a sapphire in the ensemble to various principal boys. “And so I’ve made it my joyful mission to preserve and at the same time guide our particular evolution of this historic theatrical form, which grew out of specific conditions affecting theatre in the 17th and 18th Century in England,” King says. “I learned the old gags and the playing style from performers who knew how it all worked in the late 19th Century – yes, I AM that old – and have worked to preserve those ‘bits’, adapting where necessary, to pass on to our next generation, so that we keep our reputation as THE most traditional panto in B.C.”

If you’re interested in finding out more of the history and traditions, visit its-behind-you.com.

For King, following Snow White’s run locally, it will all be behind her.

For show times and tickets in Surrey and New Westminster, visit rctheatreco.com.

“Relaxed” performances of Snow White will be staged on Dec. 27 in Surrey and Jan. 3 at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre, with a two-for-one ticket price. These performances welcome everyone, including people with additional support needs plus their families, friends, teachers or guardians. Adjustments will be made to the show itself, and regular theatre practices will be relaxed, including lower light and decreased volume. Yes, relaxed. Tickets are only $14.50, available at the box office (604-501-5566 in Surrey) and on Royal Canadian’s website.

White Rock Players have a 65-year tradition of panto productions. This year, Aladdin is the chosen tale. The show runs until Dec. 29 at the Playhouse, with no shows on Christmas. Phone the box office at 604-536-7535.

• RELATED STORY: Appealing cast is strong suit of White Rock’s Aladdin.

And oh yes, it is panto time once again for Metro Theatre, where King made her local panto debut 30 years ago. Alice in Wonderland has not been a panto theme for Metro in its 35-year panto tradition. So more than 150 years after Alice first went down the rabbit hole, Metro presents Alice In Wonderland – the maddest panto in town. Tickets are from $28 for adults or from $18 for children under 12, by emailing tickets@metrotheatre.com or calling 604-266-7191.

Had enough panto? How the Handel Society’s Messiah concert at Peninsula United Church on Dec. 21 at 7.30 p.m.? This very traditional musical piece is also a very big tradition, under the direction of a new conductor this year, Paula DeWit. Tickets are $25/$20, but children under 16 are free – excellent family value. The church is at 2756 127th St., Surrey. For more ticket info go to handelsociety.ca.

Don’t delay. Soon it will be behind you.

Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. Email: melminty@telus.net.

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