What do Fungus Fox, Crumpet the Cop and the three little pigs of Pinky, Perky and Peppy have in common?
In addition to colourful names, they’re characters in a new radio play series being produced by one Surrey theatre company at a time when COVID-19 has killed any hope of a live audience.
In normal times, players with Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society would now be prepping their annual pantomime for a local stage, but not this year.
Instead, they’re busy creating The Fairy-Tale Mysteries, a six-episode podcast series that features some familiar fairy-tale characters, with some twists.
It’s all a perfect fit for the community theatre company, president Jim Nelson says, since pantomimes are typically based on fairy tales.
“We take it from the point that we are actually experts in fairy tales,” Nelson explained. “Here in Fairy-Tale-City, many of the characters aren’t quite who we think they are – you know, once upon a time. For instance the three little pigs appear in the first episode and all of a sudden their houses are getting blown down again, so what happened to the wolf? You know, are the little pigs involved in a bit of insurance fraud here? What’s with the Harley outside one of the houses?”
Yes, there’s some skulduggery about.
“And then there’s the mystery of our lead character, named Betsy Hardup, who is actually another character, and we will find out who that is by probably Episode 5 or 6,” added Nelson, who records, edits and promotes The Fairy-Tale Mysteries.
The set-in-the-’40s story is brought to life by a growing number of familiar-face actors now working behind microphones, including Rob Dunne (as Big Bad Wolf), Mike Balser (slippery Fungus Fox), Samantha Andrews (presumptuous Crumpet the Cop), Jenn Tiles (the pigs) and Frannie Warwick (Betsy Hardup).
They recorded the 29-minute first episode in the theatre group’s Newton warehouse – dubbed “Grimoire Recording Studios” – about a month ago, with others to follow.
“We have six writers,” Nelson said, “and we currently have 11 or 12 actors. We hope that’ll be around 20 by the time we get to the end of the series. And then behind the scene there’s probably five of us.”
He said it takes close to 60 people to put on the company’s stage productions, including the pantos.
“With this we’re at around 20 or 30 people involved, and the point is to keep everybody involved, that’s our real goal, keeping that creativity,” Nelson noted. “During this COVID crisis the first goal was to protect the society financially, which we’ve done, and the second thing is to keep the society engaged, so once we come out the other side we will be ready to go.”
The company had planned to stage a version of Anything Goes in White Rock last July but like everything else, the show did not go on.
“It’s our 39th season,” Nelson said, “and we were all looking forward to being in the theatre with shows but we can’t, of course, so we’ve come up with this (The Fairy-Tale Mysteries), which had kind of blossomed on us, and we’re very happy with it.”
Looking ahead, Nelson said the theatre group is aiming to rebrand next year.
”We’re in the process with that, and we have dropped the initials FVGSS,” he explained. “We will always be the Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society, but we have plans to rebrand, with some sort of new name, and that’s coming hopefully by January.”