Hansel and Gretel get lost in Vancouver this Christmas

A Vancouver funnyman has his way with a British holiday tradition

December 4, 2015

By Fiona Morrow / Photo: Tim Matheson

Three years ago, Vancouver comedian and writer Charles Demers really didn’t know much about the curious British tradition of the panto. Nevertheless, commissioned to write one such Christmas extravaganza by Theatre Replacement, he started learning about the various tropes that make a panto (or pantomime) an annual festive must-see across the pond. “That first year, we had the narrator give a ‘how to’ from the stage,” says Demers.

It was a smart call: Panto breaks all the rules of conventional theatre, and can be a disorienting experience for the uninitiated. The audience is encouraged to call out, boo, hiss, and cheer at will, and looks forward to catching candies thrown from the stage. There must be a Principal Boy (played by a young woman) and a Dame (played by an older man), and the story—generally a well-known fairy tale—is reworked with absolutely no reverence for the original text; thus, it’s strewn with double entendres and as many nods to current affairs and popular culture as can be packed in.

This year, Demers’s third East Van Panto (with music by Veda Hille) is Hansel and Gretel, and attendees should expect much mirth extracted from the outcome of the recent federal election. Demers consistently delivers a panto firmly rooted in place. This is a work written from the perspective of the mythical Republic of East Vancouver, and politics is not something that can be shied away from. (Last year, instead of the traditional cow or horse—played by two people, so that it can split in half—Demers made the double-ender a pipeline.)

“Stanley Park features in this year’s story,” he says, “which prompted quite a lengthy discussion. Some of the team felt we should be using an East Van equivalent. We really want to stay true to the sensibility of the neighbourhood.”

Because of the timing of the election, the script—usually close to completion by early September—could not be finalized until much later. “I warned them before I started this year that, depending on the result, I reserved the right to change just about everything.”

Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto, Dec. 2 to Jan. 3
York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr, Thecultch.com

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