Metro Theatre's Christmas panto is worth a gander

J.N. Burnett’s Jessica Wong (left) is Jill in Metro Theatre’s pantomime production of Mother Goose. Also on stage is Melissa Clark, who plays the role of Colin.  -
J.N. Burnett’s Jessica Wong (left) is Jill in Metro Theatre’s pantomime production of Mother Goose. Also on stage is Melissa Clark, who plays the role of Colin.
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It came from small beginnings, but Metro Theatre’s holiday season pantomime has become a tradition for many. And this year promises a golden egg of a show.

The 50-year-old theatre on Marine Drive—a short hop over the river in Vancouver's Marpole neighbourhood—is presenting Mother Goose this year in true panto fashion—with good and evil, and good coming out on top.

Pantos are lively musical-comedy theatre productions commonly staged during the Christmas season—and despite the name, have no “mime” to them. They’re loosely based on a children’s fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk are other favourites) with opportunities for audience participation, including booing the villain and cheering the hero.

This year Mother Goose and Fairy Soap team up to save the lovable Golden Goose from the returning Demon Distastely character—a villain audiences love to hate, and heckle.

Music, dancing, grandiose costumes and familiar storylines can all be expected. And as per panto tradition, cross-dressing, corny humour and unusual plot twists will make for an unusual theatre experience.

Among the cast is Richmond’s Jessica Wong, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at J.N. Burnett Secondary. Wong is no stranger to the Metro panto, having played in the chorus of two previous shows: Cinderella and Ali Baba and the Seven Thieves. She’s now graduated to a starring role, playing the lead female Jill—alternating with fellow actor Kathleen Robertson.

“It was the most exciting thing when I found out they wanted me to play a lead because I’m so used to being ensemble for them,” she said in an interview. “I didn’t expect the part I got.”

Jill is the daughter of Mother Goose and the epitome of happiness and goodness. She falls in love with Colin, and Mother Goose, well she can’t pay the rent.

“I love pantos so much. You get to be as eccentric and over the top at all times. You get to interact with the audience—it’s so much fun. In other theatre you have to work so hard to maintain that storyline, but panto there’s so much improv and fun on stage,” said Wong.

“I feel panto has the closest cast because of how much fun you have every night.”

Wong has been a part of two shows at Burnett and appeared at the Fringe Festival twice with Awkward Stage Productions—first playing a pageant queen in Smile and then landing a role in Zanna, Don’t!

“It was a really great show where everything was flipped upside down. Everyone was homosexual. When we found out that some people were heterosexual, it was a big scandal. It’s just really cool to see different perspectives.”

Also appearing in Mother Goose for the third time is Wong’s sister Stephanie, 18, a member of the ensemble.

Mother Goose by Johnny Duncan

•A musical pantomime at Metro Theatre, Dec. 14 to Jan. 5; shows at 2 and 7 p.m.

•Directed by Cathy Wilmot, choreography by Dawn Ewen, musical direction by Vashti Fairbairn

•Tickets, $15 to $25, at 604-266-7191

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