Mixing eye-wrenching colour and slapstick humour, the traditional English pantomime is a family tradition that plays for the kids while nudging the adults. But Cinderella: An East Van Panto preaches rather than entertains, tossing aside the unrestrained glee of children’s theatre for a tired hipster joke.
[pullquote]Cinderella: An East Van Panto takes a fair stab at creating a whimsical holiday pantomime, but its missing its heart. With beautiful sets, joyful music, and a few fine performances, there is plenty of potential for the Cultch and Theatre Replacement to grow the pantomime into a fabulous family tradition.[/pullquote]Our heroine Ella (Donna Soares) is your typical East Van girl, the daughter of a yoga instructor and an SPCA advocate, she lives happily on Fraser Street until a chance encounter with a runaway food truck removes her mother from their happy family portrait. Cue the evil stepmother, stepsisters and the rest of the fairy tale kingdom. But the plot, like most pantos, doesn’t really matter as it is simply the plate on which the actors serve their gags.
First the good stuff.
The sets are gorgeous. Kris Boyd and The Art Factory have constructed a set that is simple, yet evocative of both the Vancouver and the whimsy of panto. Laura Zerebeski’s paintings used as backdrops are stunning and I found myself eagerly anticipating each set change on the chance it would reveal yet another beautiful piece of art.
Veda Hille (Musical Director & Orchestra) is a treasure. From her dramatic entrance until the final curtain, she sparkles in the few moments of focus she’s given. She seems to be one of the few folks on stage who radiates light-hearted joy. Allan Zinyk (Stepmother/Ronald Grump/David Suzuki) puts his clear improvisational talents to use and jolts some much needed energy into the production with lines like “This money may or may not contain nuts”. But it is Dawn Petten (Old Crow/Prince Grumpy) that seems most at home on the panto stage, striking just the right balance of wordplay and ham that draws laughs from kids and adults alike.
And the not so good stuff.
The problem is that the fun and joy of pantomime seems to be missing from this show. With far too much focus given to asking for donations, the wonder of children’s theatre feels like an impatiently borne prerequisite. The narrator Len Til (Dawn Petten) is a street fundraiser for pantomimes. Her refrain of “pantos need love too” is endearingly entertaining the first time, but after several speeches and an entire song and dance number, the message becomes heavy-handed at best. The jokes, while tailored to an East Van audience, are too adult, which explains why it is the adults you hear yelling “look behind you”, rather than the kids. There just isn’t enough there for them; even the candy was thrown to the adults.
Cinderella: An East Van Panto takes a fair stab at creating a whimsical holiday pantomime, but its missing its heart. With beautiful sets, joyful music, and a few fine performances, there is plenty of potential for the Cultch and Theatre Replacement to grow the pantomime into a fabulous family tradition. But the current production puts too much focus on adult preoccupations allowing neither children nor their parents to escape into the whimsical comedy of a holiday panto.
Cinderella: An East Van Panto directed by Amiel Gladstone (dramaturge). Written by Charles Demers. Presented by The Cultch and Theatre Replacement. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until December 28. Visit https://thecultch.com for tickets and information.