By Colleen Flanagan

December 22, 2016
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Beauty and the Beast in Bavaria

Traditional British pantomime will feature original music and script

Anita Brusch (Jennifer Campbell) kicks it up with Const. Hanz (Mark Manning, left) and Const. Footz (Danni Bergeron) during a performance of Ellie King's Beauty and the Beast.

The Royal Canadian Theatre Company will be putting on the Christmas pantomime Beauty and the Beast at the ACT in Maple Ridge. Written by Ellie King, the pantomime will be closer to the original fairy story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve that was published in 1740.

“It’s a traditional British panto with an original script. I write them every year. It also features original music. My husband and I, he composes and I do lyrics,” said King, whose husband is also the director. King’s story is set in the fictional town of Licketysplitz, Bavaria and tells the tale of a local merchant named Herr Brush and his two lovely daughters. When a shipment of goods fails to arrive for his store he is left destitute with nowhere to turn. In order to rescue her family from poverty, his youngest daughter, Isabella, becomes the only companion to a hideous beast in an old and lonely castle. Who will save her?

King strongly adheres to the true British pantomime tradition where there is are good guys and bad guys that battle over the fate of a protagonist who has to go on a journey filled with obstacles. Pantomimes are often based on fairy stories and legends. “It’s cultural thing. It’s a piece of theatrical history that’s 400-years-old and the elements of it go back way farther than that,” she said adding that it is a form of art she believes is worth preserving. “A lot of people think pantomime means without words and it doesn’t. A British panto is the exact opposite, it’s very noisy and it’s full of music,” explained King. Audience participation is always encouraged. “We encourage the audience to boo and to cheer and to join in. For the kids it’s huge for them. They don’t have to just sit there. They are an integral part of the whole performance,” said King. Every year she incorporates a gag into the production that would have been used in the 19 century pantomimes.

This year the gag is called The Somewhere Else gag where the comedic characters have to get each other to prove that they are not really there, that they are, in fact, somewhere else. The cast of 30 will be dressed in lederhosen and dirndl’s. “And our dame he’s actually 79-years-old this year and he dances around the stage like he is a two-year-old,” chuckled King, clarifying that the Dame in a traditional panto is not a drag act. “It’s a man in a dress. It’s very different. I’ve had men with beards and mustaches. There is a lot of theatrical history,” she said.

This is the Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s mentorship showcase. The theatre company offers free mentorship opportunities to people of all ages in the communities that they perform in. “We especially welcome children and youth,” said King. Auditions were held in June and then participants were taught the basics of singing, dancing, acting and stagecraft. “We make all their costumes, we rent all the spaces, we teach them good theatrical practice,” said King. “And at the end of it they get to perform on stage alongside the professionals and it doesn’t cost them a penny,” she continued. Needless to say King’s panto will have a happy ending on a journey that will include Bavarian music and dance numbers, corny jokes, special effects and spectacular costumes.

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