The Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s Christmas show – Ellie King’s Sword In The Stone – lives up to just about everything a traditional British pantomime should be.
While not the singer-driven show Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s Beauty and the Beast was, nor the post-modern satire on pantos White Rock Players Club’s Mother Goose tries to be, Sword manages to be thoroughly good-natured, family-oriented fun.
In this take-off on the legend of young King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere and Camelot, the gags are endearingly old and the always-amusing Alan Cedargreen is ludicrous but likeable as dithery Dame Widow Jones.
Everybody clearly understands the function of his or her role without any head-scratching over ‘motivation’; there are unforced sing-a-longs and a healthy helping of magic and spectacle guaranteed to enthrall the younger kids.
Indeed, at the Saturday night performance I saw, all the “oh-no-he-isn’t,” “look behind you” business worked better than I’ve seen in a long time (and I’ve been watching local pantos for some 30 years), as earnest youngsters got wrapped up in the interactivity.
The one or two gags of a double-entendre nature are skillfully steered well over the heads of tiny ones, while the imaginative storybook sets, drops, scenic painting, costumes, lighting and effects are enough to gladden the heart of even the most jaded adult.
While nine-year-old Holly TenHaaf, is utterly cute and demonstrates stage presence aplenty as Idris, the little Welsh dragon, another of the fabled beasts is also worthy of mention.
That’s the huge ‘Mor-dragon’ – an impressive puppetthat requires five people to operate. It’s not only a great stage effect, it’s also an example of the enterprise, ingenuity and magic that community pantomimes can achieve.
But a big part of the heart of this show is the sense of family – real or extended – that pervades not only the audience, but those on stage. Consider the clan of Stephen Elchesen, who contributes his usual cheerfully goofy turn in the ‘Idle Jack’ role of Owen Money; his wife, Kerri Norris, turns in a well-timed comedic performance as bad girl Queen Morgana, while daughters Aeron, 5, and Cayleigh, 2½, steal everything that isn’t nailed down.
James King, son of playwright/director King and musical-director Geoff King, delivers his best Demon King performance yet with fine timing, hilarious Scottish burr, tartans and braided red beard.
As Arthur, principal boy Mandy Tulloch chimes in with cheery amiability, fishnetted legs and the energy to put over the material.
As principal girl, Claurien Zanoria makes an appealing, sympathetic Guinevere. About the only thing missing from her nicely developed relationship with Arthur is the usual boy-girl ballad.
As cowardly villain Sir Mordred the Malignant, newcomer Tony De Mateis has the right broad, clownish touch; Bob Wilson is a confident Merlin, and Raminder Brar contributes upbeat presence as the Fairy Queen.
And we could stand to see a lot more of another new arrival, John More, as Grandpa Jones – the theoretically infirm ‘ancient’ is a mainstay of British comedy, and More’s variant would be a welcome addition to any panto.
Christopher Lewis Macleod offers a nice dopey characterization as G’Norman the Gnome, though his lines are not always clear; Scott Townsend, Jennifer Campbell, Alexa Pedersen and Glynis Knowlden brighten the stage with their contributions as villagers, and all members of the chorus make the most of their moments to – quoting the title of another number – ‘Shine’.