Not even a broken ankle can keep the irrepressible Ellie King down.
The Langley-based ‘panto queen,’ founder and artistic director of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company – whose Christmas entertainments are a fixture in the Surrey Arts Centre from mid-December to early January – has been hobbling through rehearsals but, we’re happy to report, is otherwise unimpeded as director of her latest, Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates.
The rollicking seafaring tale comes to Surrey Arts Centre Dec. 20 to Jan. 6.
Fortunately, members of her extended panto family were ready to wear some of King’s many hats this year. Jackie Bruce, for instance, was able to step in as choreographer for the show, while one of King’s regular professional players, Kerri Norris, has taken on the key role of production manager, as well as a plum supporting role as daffy tour guide Polly Perkins.
Panto-fanciers can expect King’s patented brand of colourful, traditional, kid-friendly, cheer-the-hero, boo-the villain adventure, with plenty of song and dance and a healthy helping of groan-worthy knockabout humour, spearheaded by obligatory panto animal Griselda the Gorilla and veteran RCTC player Alan Cedargreen as Dame Kitty Crusoe.
Well-known White Rock/South Surrey player Erin Coon takes the role of Robinson, with Tony DeMatteis as Cap’n Blight, Bob Wilson as First Mate Bruce, Tim Zhang as Second Mate Bruce, and Claurien Zanoria as beauteous Princess Friday, with keyboard wizard Geoff King and percussionist Sheila Rebelato once again providing a versatile ‘orchestra.’
King notes this show is an update of her first version of Robinson Crusoe as a pantomime, which debuted 20 years ago.
But there’s a longer tradition to it than that, insists the panto veteran, who has long made a study of the history of the form.
“The first panto version was in London at the end of the 18th century – I didn’t direct that one, although I was in the junior chorus,” she quipped.
This year’s update has given an opportunity for many topical references, she adds.
“Plus, in 20 years I’ve changed my approach a little – perhaps this is a little more Canadianized.”
But panto purists needn’t fear – King still has as strong a grasp as ever of the particular balance of ingredients that make the British-style seasonal treat tick.
One is a strong ‘dame’ – as personified by Cedargreen.
“What a trouper,” King said. “He’s doing well – and even with a stinking cold he still made all the rehearsals, while keeping a safe distance from the rest of the cast.”
Another key is an understanding that the cross-dressing in British-style panto tradition is a matter of having fun – not an exercise in method acting.
“Lovely Erin is an awesome Robinson,” King said. “She’s makes a great ‘boy’ because she’s very clearly a girl. She understands what it is to be a principal boy, with the hands-on-hips and the fishnets and heels, which in this case are a pair of rather fancy boots.”
Also striking the right balance, King said, is DeMatteis (Mordred the Malignant in last year’s Sword In The Stone) as Blight, whose evil plan is to persuade Dame Kitty Crusoe that he’s a better skipper for her Crusoe’s Cruises business than her accident-prone son, Billy (RCTC regular Stephen Elchesen).
“Tony totally gets what it is to be a villain who is also really, really silly. It’s hard to find someone who can walk that line – there still has to be an element of risk and menace there, or there’s no point.”
It’s something King’s son, James, returning in his accustomed role as Demon King – this year in the guise of Davy Jones – also understands, she said.
“He knows how to be scary and still be silly at the same time.”
Claurien Zanoria, last year’s Guinevere, returns as principal girl in the role of Princess Friday of Lingalonga Island.
“She’s a bubbly, cute personality – a sweet girl who works really hard,” enthused King.
She notes that of the more than 40 in the cast, half are performers under the age of 20.
“That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on with RCTC,” she said. “We have young people mentoring with professionals.”
Regular admission is $23.95 plus box office charges, or $14.95 plus charges for children under 12.
For ticket information and bookings visit www.rctheatreco.com or www.arts.surrey.ca or call 604-501-5566.