Most are familiar with the classic tale of Snow White befriending the seven dwarfs and nibbling on a poisoned apple. Ellie King has taken the Disney story and turned it into a panto play for the holidays, in another Royal Canadian Theatre Company production that hits Surrey this month.
“We’ve put on Aladdin, Robin Hood, Sinbad, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” King recited, naming several famous works she has given the pantomime treatment over the years. “Everything is in-house original; we compose and write the lyrics every year.”
King, a Langley resident who grew up in Great Britain, said she can remember panto being a part of her life since she was only two-and-a-half years old.
“I didn’t know it had such a long, respectable pedigree,” King said, admitting she recently got curious about panto’s history after years of writing and performing the genre. “It’s existed well over 400 years – Shakespeare would have know about it – and it extends far past being ‘a man in dress’ type entertainment.”
Over the many iterations, King has become something of an expert when it comes to identifying all the components involved, landing at the idea that, at its most basic, pantomime plays are a fantasy/musical.
“There must be a battle of good and evil – an immortal force that sends the protagonist on a spiritual journey where they must overcome obstacles,” King described. “There are lots of forth wall breaks and soliloquies, and good always triumphs in the end.”
Despite the productions having little to do with the holidays, pantomime plays have become synonymous with Christmas because they have been traditionally held in December to bring families together.
“It’s a big undertaking,” King assured. “This time, there will be 38 people on stage.”
For Snow White, the title character is played by Jodie Aguinaldo, 18, a Surrey resident in her second panto with Royal Canadian.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “This is my sixth year in performing, and it’s one of my passions. I love doing drama and also making people laugh and cry, in a good way.”
Back in Grade 11 at Guildford Park Secondary, Aguinaldo worked on a Royal Canadian production behind the scenes – making and painting sets, mostly.
Now, she’s a star of the show.
“Jodie is not only astoundingly pretty, but sings exactly like the Snow White in the Disney movie of the 1930s,” King said. “She has a remarkable voice. She’s feisty, very princess-y, funny – an awesome young woman.”
For Snow White, King said that a few liberties were taken to make it fit within the pantomime world and contain a role for all involved. Actors of all ages from across the Lower Mainland – at all experience levels – were welcome to take part.
“We have to also be aware of cultural appropriation and political correctness, so the dwarfs were made into a family instead,” she said. “We also have open diverse casting so everyone is included.”
Snow White will also be presented in two relaxed performances on Dec. 27 and Jan. 3, so that those with intellectual and other disabilities will feel comfortable and able to enjoy live theatre.
“It’s difficult for folks with Tourette’s and other disabilities and distracting to other audience members,” King explained. “This is the third year we’ve done this, but what we do is a specialty performance where no lights go out – all the cast come out on stage first so there are no surprises, and people are free to wander and shout.”
The bottom line for King is that, not just pantomime, but theatre in general should be accessible and entertaining for all.
“Theatre is so rare of an occupation we have ourselves to blame for a diminishing audience,” she explained. “We’ve concentrated too heavily on theatre as an art form that we’ve lost the element of fun.”
RCTC has been striving to break the more “somber” moulds of theatre by bringing nothing but comedies and lighter productions to the stage.
Snow White is a light, family-friendly production that King said is part of a tradition she hopes will continue for years to come.
The production runs from Dec. 20 to 29 at Surrey Arts Centre (13750 88th Ave.) and on Jan. 3 and 4 at Massey Theatre in New Westminster.
For tickets and other details, visit rcttheatreco.com or, for the Surrey dates, call 604-501-5566.
with a file from Tom Zillich