By Chelsey Stuyt
VANCOUVER — The East Van Panto is back with more cross-dressing and politically pointed humour than you can shake your Starbucks cup at. With music by local legend Veda Hille and a script rife with references cut from the heart of any East Van local, Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto is set to be the cheekiest holiday tradition you didn’t know you needed.
Your standard English pantomime may have originated in the 19th century, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new to say. Local collective Theatre Replacement twists the tradition to take on 21st century East Van life.
“It isn’t our priority to pay homage to the English panto, but to use the style of the panto to tell an East Van story,” explains director Stephen Drover.
The Hansel and Gretel of the Brothers Grimm may have been about a hungry family in a German forest, but Theatre Replacement’s version is about foodie culture in Vancouver. “Specialized restaurants, food blogging; it’s not particular to East Van but it’s very visible [here],” says Drover. “And, as always, there’s a lot of political references, and nods to local restaurants and landmarks.”
“It’s a darker source material,” he continues. “All the adults in the original Hansel and Gretel are not nice. You have parents abandoning their kids. So our job has been to find the light in that story and to make it a happy and fun experience for the whole family.”
One way is to open up the tradition of panto to more than just the Christmas crowd.
“I was reading about the whole red cup controversy on Facebook and how Starbucks was saying that it’s not about Christmas or sidelining Christmas, but about having a happy holiday for everyone,” Drover says. “I think that’s a really interesting conversation that’s happening now. The spirit of this play is so community oriented that it makes it easy to remember that we’re all in this together. It’s an East Van sentiment that is true to the show, but is also very true for the times.”
Last year’s East Van Panto was a hit and this year’s is on track to continue the tradition. Now in its third year at The York Theatre on Commercial Drive, tickets are selling twice as well with the company seeing many audience members coming back multiple times. Nothing like a little humour to bring everyone together for the holidays.
Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto runs at The York Theatre from December 2 to January 3, 2016.BC, British Columbia, Hansel and Gretel, Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto, live theatre, York Theatre