Roger Hussen and Chris Roberts in the panto “Peter Pan,” which hits Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage starting on Nov. 22. (submitted photo: William Ness)

MINTY: ‘Peter Pan’ and other pantos bring family fun to stages in Surrey and White Rock

There are some ‘rules’ for traditional British pantomime

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

Daylight hours are getting shorter, the temperatures drop, and we look forward to rain and wind – and possibly snow. That can only mean that we are approaching the pantomime season!

Yep, it’s panto time. And of course, it is my annual duty to tell you all about what a pantomime is, and is not. Although pantomime has been around for centuries, the uninitiated confuse pantomime theatre with mime theatre. Mime is a theatrical technique where the story is told without words and emotions, and actions are told only using gesture, expression and movement.

Pantomime is a type of musical comedy designed for family entertainment, traditionally performed during the Christmas season. You can wade through all the internet information yourself, and you might find that some of the information lumps mime and pantomime together. I am saying it here and now and forever – they are not the same thing, although they share the same history.

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Since the first known use of pantomime was in 1606 (how do they know that?), it should be a clearly established and understood genre. Pantomime has a long theatrical history in Western culture dating back to classical theatre. It developed partly from the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition of Italy and other European and British stage traditions.

It is generally acknowledged that the traditional pantomime was developed in England, and is traditionally performed especially during the Christmas and New Year season. It includes songs, physical humor, slapstick comedy and dancing. Most pantomimes are based – more or less – on a fairy tale. Audience participation is absolutely required: Boo the villain, cheer the hero, sing along and laugh at all the gags. This is pure family entertainment.

There are some “rules” for traditional British pantomime. The good fairy always enters from the right, the villain or demon is relegated to the sinister side of the stage – that’s stage left. The dame, a much sought after role, is always played by a man, as is the principal boy. A chase scene is usually involved as the hero attempts to rescue the heroine. Good and evil battle. There is a children’s chorus, and comic characters. This makes the pantomime a perfect choice for amateur theatre groups to perform, and just about every local community theatre produces an annual pantomime.

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In Surrey, first up on the stage this pantomime season is Peter Pan, the panto produced by FVGSS, A Musical Theatre Society. The show runs at Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage from Nov. 22 to Dec. 2. Evening shows are at 7:30 p.m., matinees at 2:30. Phone the box office at 604 501-5566. Tickets start at $12 and group rates are available. Go to the FVGSS.org website for details.

Artistic director Barbie Warwick took some care to make the script more politically correct – and still leave in all the fun.

“We knew the original script and its many alliterations, including the Disney cartoon, depict Tiger Lily and her family as two-dimensional ridiculous characters, very insulting of the indigenous people of Canada,” Barbie tells me. So with some rewriting and adapting, this Peter Pan will win over new audiences and honor our First Nations. As the press release says, “second pun to the right and straight on till curtain.” Gosh, wish I had thought that one up.

If you are looking for very traditional British pantomime, Ellie King says “this is it” about her panto this year, Hansel, Gretel & The Strolling Players, also at Surrey Arts Centre but from Dec. 21 to 30. King is the local queen of the panto genre; she has performed in them since the age of three, and in England. She is almost obsessed with preserving the pure form of this theatrical genre.

Hansel, Gretel & The Strolling Players is presented by Royal Canadian Theatre Company. Just like the FVGSS production, this one also involves children in the production as well as family participation in the whole operation. Go to Royal Canadian’s website (rctheatreco.com) for tickets and more info, or call 604-501-5566.

Elsewhere, White Rock Players have a long long history of panto productions. Their signature “panto animal” is Shenannigan, the Pantomime Giraffe. Can’t wait to see how a pink and purple giraffe fits in with Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom, written and directed by Dann Wilhelm. Dann cut his panto teeth with FVGSS and has played characters from hero to villain. We are all panto people, it seems.

The Players’ production will be at Coast Capital Playhouse from Dec. 5 to 29. Please do visit the White Rock Players website (whiterockplayers.ca) for all the up-to-date information. A few weeks back, a burst water main broke the front windows and flooded the lobby. That was from the next-door construction of a highrise. Although there is parking at the back of the theatre, access is somewhat tricky due to the construction project. But, the show must go on. And how do The Beatles fit into all of this? I can’t tell you, it is just part of the panto madness. It’s a tradition.

• READ MORE: Burst pipe strikes theatre company twice in White Rock, from Sept. 26.

Naked Stage Productions Society do not put on pantos, but do an excellent job of staged readings. Please, please, please do go see Waiting for the Parade, a story by John Murrell set in Calgary during the Second World War, at Newton Cultural Centre on Nov. 16 (at 7:30 p.m.) and Nov. 17 and 18 (2 p.m.). The venue is at 13530 72nd Ave. Tickets are $15 and available at the door and also at waiting.brownpapertickets.com.

Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. She can be reached at melminty@telus.net.

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