There’s no use tackling a traditional British pantomime without a large portion of traditional British cheek.
Fortunately, that’s a quality that Merseyside-reared, Surrey Civic Treasure Ellie King possesses in abundance.
The director-playwright knows that friendly national stereotypes, groaner jokes and time-honoured knockabout routines are the life blood of the panto, which true to its British show-biz origins, annually turns a well-loved fairy tale inside-out and serves it up, like a well-stuffed Christmas turkey, for the delectation of young and old alike.
Such humourous audacity abounds in The Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s 10th anniversary pantomime, Ellie King’s Beauty and the Beast, which comes to Surrey Arts Centre (13750 88 Ave.) from Dec. 16 to 26 before moving on to the ACT Art Centre in Maple Ridge for Dec. 30 and 31.
RCTC founder King has taken a distinctly Bavarian slant – replete with broad caricatures and distinctly juicy accents – to the familiar myth, now located in the Alpine hamlet of Licketyshplitz, where the Burgomeister, Herr Brusch (Asandi Onokwulu), has two dirndl-clad daughters, Isabella (Crystal Weltzin) and Anita (Jennifer Campbell).
“It’s actually supposed to be in France, but we did a French pantomime last year,” the pun-prone King said, only mildly apologetically.
“So I made it Bavaria, instead… oh dear.”
In King’s defence, she and husband Geoff (her keyboardist/orchestra leader, or Herr Band, as she refers to him for this show) have nothing but fond memories of the place and the people from a long-ago residence as entertainers at the resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
“The original dirndl I bought there is actually being worn by one of the cast members,” King said.
The story of Beauty and the Beast has been adapted as a pantomime before – but King said introducing all the panto elements, and compressing the events in the original tale, presented some particular challenges.
“There are so many to-and-fros – I was beginning to wonder what I’d gotten myself into,” she said.
In her 2016 version, the bankrupted Brusch has purloined a single red rose from the garden of the a horrific Beast (actually the transformed Prince Von Beastenstein, King chuckled), played by RCTC panto regular Jacqueline Bruce as the traditional girl-boy ‘tights’ role.
“The Prince was hunting a stag at the time he was transformed – so he’s actually a stylized version of a stag, or, I suppose, in this case, a stag-ette…”
Following an RCTC tradition there is actually another beast in the show – the Krampus, a legendary monster of German folklore who sounds like a reverse St. Nick.
“He comes out about Christmastime, and if the kids haven’t been good he carries them off in a sack,” King explained.
Brusch’s transgression means he is required to do service at the Beast’s castle for a year and a day – but when the feisty Isabella decides to intervene in his plight, events take many strange turns, panto fashion.
Speaking of strange turns, RCTC favourite Alan Cedargreen is back as the dame, Frau Schackenbacken, while other familiar faces are Kerri Norris as the evil witch Brunhilde Von Hexen, and her husband Stephen Elcheshen as carpenter Augustus Schwackenhammer, romantic interest of Anita.
King’s son James – recuperating from recent fatherhood – is back in the role of Demon King (he’ll be back as panto director next year, King promises), while his counterpart the Fairy Queen is played by Jaqueline Koenig.
“Which, oddly enough, is German for King,” notes the director.
“Spectacular costumes” by Norris (“she’s outdone herself this year,” King said) promise to add sparkle to the show, while there are even more original Ellie King-Geoff King songs to give the nonsense a tuneful twist – including Gutentag, Auf Wiedersehn, I Like To Yodel and the ballad Together Evermore.
“And there are few borrowed tunes – but with different lyrics,” adds King.
For tickets ($28, $18 seniors and under-14) for the Surrey performances (Dec. 16, 17 and 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 17, 18, 24 and 26 at 3:30 p.m.) visit tickets.surrey.ca or call 604-501-5566.