Trouble at the North Pole: Santa (Luke George Branson) and Mrs. Claus (Croy Jenkins) are at odds over his new image in Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society's Santa Claus: The Panto

Edgy panto features a made-over Santa 2.0

Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society show starts the holiday season

They’ve already brought us The Phantom of the Panto.  So why not Santa Claus: The Panto?

Producers Lyn Verra-Lay and Mike Balser of the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society freely agree the group has positioned itself on the edgier, more experimental end of the local Christmas pantomime spectrum.

That’s certainly true of the world premiere of Santa Claus, which will kick off the Christmas panto season Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 at Surrey Arts Centre, 13750 – 88 Ave.

Audiences can rest assured that the FVGSS shows are seldom so anti-traditional that they neglect such time-honoured, enjoyable panto schtick as a Dame, a principal boy-girl and girl-girl, familiar songs, nefarious villainy and tons of goofy groaners and topical political gags.

But one can definitely expect some unusual and novel twists in Santa Claus, an original by panto veteran Adrian Duncan, plus the father-daughter team of Jeff and Hannah Christensen and long-time panto-meister Balser, society president, who also co-authored and directed last year’s The Frog Princess.

Like most stories, it starts with a ‘what if?’ – supplied, in this case, by Duncan.

Suppose Santa Claus has decided he’s more than due for a makeover? Suppose a new diet, intensive yoga and a ‘cool-dude’ attitude has transformed him into something far from the Santa of old?

As embodied by lead player Luke George Branson, this streamlined Santa is very different from the expected image, Balser and Verra-Lay acknowledge.

“Luke is 28, about 5 ft. 8″ and maybe 140 lbs. soaking wet,” said Balser, who did some development reworking of the original script together with Duncan and the Christensens.

There’s stakes-raising character conflict in Mrs. Claus’ (panto dame Croy Jenkins) reaction to Santa’s makeover, he said.

“Santa wants to change and Mrs. Claus doesn’t like it at all. It’s change versus no change.”

Both he and Verra-Lay quip that the panto is still a work in progress.

“We decided a year ago we would co-produce, and we’re almost finished,” laughed Verra-Lay, who noted with Balser that, even with instinct and experience in play, a new panto has to reach the workshop/rehearsal phase to truly discover where the telling moments – and, ultimately, the laughs – are.

Fortunately the show has a solid and reliable creative framework in place, including skilled performer-director Dann Wilhelm as artistic director (“I find it difficult to walk away from the directing job,” Balser admitted), musical director Tim Tucker, choreographer Carol Seitz and assistant choreographer Elizabeth Lay.

Other agreeably reliable elements are supplied by dithery senior elf Bobo (Clive Ramroop), progress-oriented principal boy Kristopher (Breanna Branson), principal girl Kristabel (Samantha Andrews, a loyal panto perennial for the last decade) and Fairy Wintergreen (Kate Naylor).

Chief villain of the piece is crafty coal salesman Carbone Bootmark (Chris Hall), intent on boosting Santa’s coal bill by turning nice kids naughty, aided and abetted by his sidekick Teazel the Weasel (Jen Tiles, of White Rock panto fame, in yet another of her hilarious cartoony animal characterizations).

There’s also a ‘panto’ animal – Rudolph the Reindeer – portrayed by Rebecca Teskey and Fraser McKay – and the Christensens’ real-life canine companion Max portrays Olive ‘The Other Reindeer.’

Balser said working with the writing collaborators has actually proceeded very smoothly.

Duncan, coming from traditional panto experience, is a past-master in inventing ingratiatingly funny names for the characters, he said.

“Hannah – who’s only 16 – is the one who keeps the plot logical, while Jeff is the guy who, while we’re talking about how to resolve one character’s arc, says ‘let’s put in a Christy Clark joke.’ With him you’re either saying  ‘that’s brilliant!’ or ‘yeah…no.'”

Hannah – who has performed in several of the recent pantomimes with her notably droll magician/comedian dad – said Duncan suggested she join the writing team after he heard she wrote and published a children’s book, Sock Wars, when she was only 11 (dedicated to the memory of her late little brother, Jonah, who died when she was nine, it made headlines five years ago when she sold thousands of copies for the Raise-A-Reader charity).

She has been enjoying her behind-the-scenes work in Santa Claus as much as her role as the elf Elvira, she said.

“It’s been wonderful seeing ideas that were only taking place in someone’s mind taking form on stage,” she said. “It’s really cool, the dynamic of seeing everything coming together.”

Jeff Christiansen, who claims he was originally “tricked” into becoming part of the FVGSS pantomime family by Balser while he was developing stage presence for his magic work, was awarded the gold medal by the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians earlier this year for his new mentalist (mind-reading) act.

He’s actually playing a magician – Presto – in Santa Claus, he said, adding that  as much as he enjoys using his FVGSS experience in his own act, he also likes using his training to enrich the magical aspects of the pantos’ Fairy Tale ethos.

That includes adding an audience-interactive mentalism element to this year’s show, he said.

“It just fit in so nicely – of course Santa would know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice!”

Show performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

To reserve tickets, call 604-501-5566.

 

 

Just Posted

White Rock sandcastle competition on the rocks

Backers of the proposal – the White Rock Events Society – plan to call it quits

United Way to bring little libraries to Clayton

United Way is hoping to partner with residents to host the free gathering spaces for the community

Torched-SUV victim ‘had the purest heart,’ says sister

Family of teen found in burned SUV in Surrey appeals for justice

Girl, 6, lured from elementary school, sexually assaulted: Vancouver police

Police are seeking dashcam footage from nearby Sexsmith Elementary School in South Vancouver

Delta to give Deltassist $75,000 for seniors programs

The funding will replace a grant from United Way that’s set to expire next year

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

Warning issued as forecast calls for 20-foot waves in Tofino

Dangerous waves, strong currents and upper-shoreline flooding expected for Tofino-Ucluelet area

An 800-pound pig named Theodore needs a forever home, B.C. society says

‘Theodore is not destined to be somebody’s bacon’

Teenager Alphonso Davies wins Canadian Men’s Soccer Player for the Year Award

Derek Cornelius and Chilliwack native, Jordyn Huitema were named Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

B.C. teen MMA fighter shows heart

Young Unity MMA competitors bring home Ws

2,000 Canadians died of an overdose in first 6 months of the year

New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows the crisis is not subsiding

Another B.C. city votes to ban single-use plastic bags

First six months of proposed ban would focus on education, not enforcement

UK Prime Minister Theresa May wins party no-confidence vote, but troubles remain

May won the vote of 317 Conservative legislators with a 200-117 tally

Most Read

l -->