Mandy Tulloch

‘Sword’ panto has British edge

Royal Canadian Theatre Company presents Sword in the Stone at the Surrey Arts Centre.

Get ready for the third wave of panto for the season, following the now departed Beauty and the Beast by the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society and White Rock Players Club’s Mother Goose, still running at the Coast Capital Playhouse.

Ellie King’s The Sword In The Stone rolls into Surrey Arts Centre Theatre (13750 88 Ave.) for a Dec. 16-31 run.

Pantomime connoisseurs who like their seasonal treat – like their candies – with a distinctly British flavour will no doubt wish to sample the version served up by King’s Surrey-based Royal Canadian Theatre Company.

And this year’s show is British to the core, in that it purports to retell the legend of how young Arthur came to be King of the Britons by extracting said blade (Excalibur) from said rock formation.

“Well, it’s a panto,” said King, artistic director and founder of RCTC, who cut her teeth in the idiom in the environs of her native land. “Obviously, because it’s such a well-loved legend there are many versions; one that Camelot was in North Wales, another that it was at the site of Tintagel Castle, in Cornwall.

“In my version Arthur, with the help of two gnomes, G’Nigel and G’Norman, travels down from Wales to Camelot in Cornwall, because that’s where Excalibur is – and if anyone has a problem with that, I’ll whip out my artistic license and show ’em.”

Lest one think the show might be too mired in history, the Langley resident is quick to point out that Arthur (played by Mandy Tulloch) has grown up with the Welsh family of Widow Blodwyn Jones (Alan Cedargreen in accustomed Dame mode), who operates the local shop/post office, and her children Rhea (Jennifer Campbell) and Dai (White Rock’s Scott Townsend).

“I’ve written in one of the comedy set pieces from the 19th century, set in the store – I always like to include one of those as an homage to the traditions of panto,” King said.

But while the show is a rework of her 1994 Metro Theatre production, there is a considerable amount of new material, including an original song, Camelot, co-written by King and her husband and musical director Geoff. She’s also streamlined the show to make it more family friendly, she added.

“I think this year we’ve come in under the two hour mark – I say I’m trying to do that every year, but this time I think we’ve done it.”

Count on a panto brimming with fun, nevertheless, King said – as well as all the usual silly gags.

There’s a beautiful heroine, Guinevere, played by Claurien Zanoria (“She’s really cute,” King said) a wonderful “wizzard” – Merlin (Bob Wilson), a magic mirror and characters with named likes Owen Money and Amaryllis Plant.

There are Druids, trolls, sheperdesses and at least one dragon: the diminutive Idris, played by young Holly TenHaaf.

And all the requisite villainy, of course, some of it courtesy of the evil Morgana Le Fay (Kerri Norris), with overall chaos supplied by a distinctly Scottish and impressively bearded Demon King (“call him McDemon,” King said) played by son James.

“He’s been after me to do the Demon King as a Scot for years and last year we had a Scottish good fairy, so I no longer have any excuse not to let him,” she said.

Any doubt that this is a family panto should be dispelled by the presence of two very junior members of the Elchesen clan, Cayleigh (only two-and-a-half) and her brother Aeron, five, who takes the role of G’Nigel.

But there’s also a plenty of experienced panto talent, courtesy of such King regulars as Cedargreen, Norris, and Tulloch.

“Mandy is the complete principal boy,” notes King. “She’s been doing a lot of work with Excalibur. There’s a fair bit of sword fighting in the show, particularly when Arthur fights the ‘ultimate horror’ that lives in the castle…but that’s another story.”

New this season is a “fantabulous” family Christmas Party (Dec. 17), featuring a magician, music, Merlin’s magical crafts table, Santa and Mrs. Claus – as well as the show – with all proceeds to the CKNW Orphans’ Fund.

For tickets, call 604-501-5566 or visit tickets.surrey.ca

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