Michelle Gaetz as Pinocchio and Bryce Paul Mills as the Dame

Michelle Gaetz as Pinocchio and Bryce Paul Mills as the Dame

Panto creators take pointers from the past

White Rock Players Club’s latest production based on original story from 1883

The strength of the White Rock Players Club’s annual Christmas pantomime has always been the club’s irreverent – and distinctly local – slant on an old English stage tradition.

Starting with the 1954 Babes In The Woods, created by Players Club pioneers Franklin and Charlotte Johnson, the White Rock pantomime quickly became the talk of the Lower Mainland, establishing its own set of traditions along the way, many of which survive in current pantos.

Key to retaining the distinctive White Rock panache has been the writing of original scripts – and the 2012 pantomime, Pinocchio, is in the grand tradition: a unique adaptation of the classic Carlo Collodi tale by panto veteran and club president Dave Baron.

The colourful show, directed by Susanne de Pencier, with musical direction by Kerry O’ Donovan, runs until Dec. 29 at the Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd.

The process of creating a brand new pantomime – the club’s 58th – started well over a year ago, Baron said.

“I knew I was going to write a new pantomime, but the big question was what was it going to be?” he recalled.

“We’d used a lot of the panto staples – Snow White, Cinderella, Sinbad and Aladdin. But I was inspired by an interesting audience comment after last year’s show (Mother Goose). Someone said there was no clear sense of good and evil, that there just wasn’t a believable villain.

“I thought that was true – we’ve always done more comic villains.”

The quest for true villainy – and less-travelled panto territory – eventually led Baron to Pinocchio, he said.

“I remembered the Disney version, obviously, and I thought there were a couple of villains in that that could be useful. But in terms of our format, we need one really nasty villain.”

A search back through the archives revealed that Franklin and Charlotte Johnson had also produced a Pinocchio in the 1960s – but Baron quickly realized it was a product of its times that would not translate well for modern audiences.

“It was quite appalling how times have changed, in terms of what kind of humour they could get away with then,” he said. “I also didn’t like the villain at all.”

Baron went back and read the original 1883 Collodi story – only to find there was way too much material for a direct adaptation to work.

“I didn’t realize it was such a saga,” he said.

But there was a darkness in the tale (Collodi reputedly didn’t like children very much, and used the obstinate and mouthy Pinocchio as a vehicle for lecturing them on their bad behaviour) that did, ultimately, stick with him.

From the pages of the original, Baron drew the inspiration for making a puppet master the principal villain, played in the show by Players Club veteran Martin Perrin.

“I call him Signor Scagliare, which means Mr. Fire-eater,” Baron said. “He’s a scammer, an evil showman.”

Scagliare has used the secret of a hapless, now deceased magician (“he’d have died a lot easier if he’d given me the secret sooner,” he sneers) to create lifelike puppets out of real people.

But fearing official wrath, he seeks to add Pinocchio (Michelle Gaetz) – a real wooden puppet come to life – to his collection, to divert suspicion from his other ‘puppets.’

Scagliare’s minions, Fox (Jennifer Tiles) and Cat (Elyse Raible,) are also drawn from the original story, Baron notes.

But he admits he has taken great liberties with the original to cast events and characters in traditional panto mold – and offer a nod and wink to audience expectations.

Instead of the Jiminy Cricket of the Disney version, for instance, this Pinocchio offers twins – ‘Gemini Crickets’ 1 and 2 – played by Reilly Olexson and Kate Naylor.

And readers will scan the original in vain for such characters as Pinocchio’s sweetheart, Isabella (Melissa Paras), or her overbearing aunt, Miss Ann Thrope – although the latter supplies a ready-made broad comedy ‘Dame’ role for Bryce Paul Mills.

Baron said he also takes full responsibility for Admiral Horatio Suckblower – a role tailored for the unique comedic instincts of panto veteran Ray Van Ieperen. He’s a nautical chap who turns out to be the bilge cleaner of a seriously off-course BC Ferry, as well as supplying a handy romantic interest for Miss Ann – just in time for perennial panto number The Year We Fell In Love.

Also featured in the show are Melanie Minty, as Isabella’s missing mother Sophia, Nigel Watkinson as Geppetto, Ryan Elliott as the Godfather, and Suzanne Benson and Patte Rust, double cast as the Old Puppet.

Adding extra flair to the staging of Pinocchio is choreography by Lena Dabrusin, set design by Andrea Olund and costumes by Heather Maximea.

For tickets ($18, $16 seniors, students and Coast Capital members) and further information,  call 604-536-7535, visit www.whiterockplayers.ca or email wrpctix@uniserve.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The emergency department at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., in July 2020. (Black Press Media)
Peace Arch Hospital Foundation reaches $12 million goal

New operating suites to open this fall

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Surrey RCMP asking for dash-cam video of ‘suspicious incident’

Incident involves a newer model Toyota Rav 4 SUV

Surrey RCMP are investigating a “serious” collision near Cloverdale Saturday evening. (Curtis Kreklau photo)
Surrey RCMP investigating ‘serious’ collision in Cloverdale

Witness says vehicle collided with utility pole at approximately 9:30 p.m.

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Denise Stevenson

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

The Kimber family of Boston Bar lost their home in a fire. Blaine Kimber’s daughter created a fundraiser to help rebuild the home with the goal of $100,000. (Screenshot/GoFundMe)
Fundraiser created for Boston Bar family that lost everything in weekend fire

Witnesses say the Kimber family escaped the fire without injury, but their home is a total loss

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read