Arts & Culture

East Van Panto Pinocchio a hit

By Lorraine Graves

Published 11:48 PST, Fri December 6, 2019

Last Updated: 2:39 PST, Tue January 7, 2020

Wow. Just wow. 

This year’s EastVan Panto, Pinocchio, excels in every department. It is the tightest production I have seen since Gross Misconduct at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre last year. 

Like the Gateway play, it features a spot-on and relevant script with stunning acting, directing and stage craft. Also like Gross Misconduct it moves us but unlike the serious matter in that production, in the case of the panto, it moves us to gales of laughter, much of it about ourselves, our values and where we live. 

The audience was a mix of families, elders and children. We all laughed, though at different jokes. When the cricket demonstrates how we are to shout out when we find something gross, simulated nose picking brings gales of laughter. The kids loved it. The cricket’s name is Jiminy Pattison, and there are more than a few jokes about the wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist. 

Shouting the panto classics, “Behind you!” and, “Oh no you won’t!” then booing and cheering as villains and goodies enter, felt great. Everyone participates in a panto. It’s part of the tradition. 

Panto, or Christmas pantomime, is a centuries-old British tradition that came to Vancouver decades ago. As in Britain, you can find fully professional productions like this year’s East Van Panto produced by Theatre Replacement and The Cultch. You can also find wonderful amateur community theatre productions closer to home in English villages or, even closer to Richmond, at the Metro Theatre just over the Arthur Laing Bridge. (Their production of Alice in Wonderland runs Dec. 12 to Jan. 4.)

Whether it has the finesse of a fully professional theatre company like Theatre Replacement or the blousy fun of a community production, panto is designed for the whole family. Many make it an annual tradition with grandparents, parents and kids of all ages trooping out to a performance sometime over the holidays. 

The delicious memory lingers. You can find small children in living rooms throughout the year acting out bits from the panto with enthusiasm. 

In Pinocchio, there is a running gag about mispronouncing Michael Bublé’s name. 

In addition to some of his numbers, this production is full of some fine singing in a variety of genres from ABBA to opera to Queen and even a number by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Each of the songs, has new words, customized to the Lower Mainland and our foibles. Few of the numbers are easy to sing yet each is done to the nines with finesse, clarity and great humorous impact. 

The dialogue is clear with the one exception of someone in a business suit who seemed a bit muffled the night we were there. 

The adult jokes are not risqué but instead poke fun at every political party and persuasion such as when a notable private school on the North Shore is called, “Where NDP-supporters spend thousands a year to send their children.” Each political leader comes in for razzing. 

One big kudos to the playwright, Marcus Youssef, for creating a script with such humour and for not creating a herteronormative cast or piece. In a play where we all get to see and laugh at ourselves, it is great when everyone gets to belong to the wide range of normal. 

My favourite throughout the play was the fairy, one of many characters played by Chirag Naik. Naik is a favourite of Bard on the Beach audiences. Here, he struts his comedic stuff, or sometimes rolls through it on a hoverboard, with finesse. I looked forward to any scene that had Naik in it but particularly when the mauve fairy in high purple boots appeared. 

There is a twist on the dame, another panto classic character often played by a very large man with exaggerated female features, but who in this production appears with grace and flamboyance in drag with a brilliant red, slinky gown and lots of bling. 

Commercial Drive’s various coffee vendors appear at one point, warring as to whose and which kind is the best, again, poking fun at a regional norm. 

Each element is strong in this production. You cannot see better theatre anywhere. 

Pinocchio is suitable for all ages though The Cultch recommends ages 5 and up. As long as your wee companion can sit through a two-hour (with intermission) performance, it’s a go. The scary people in this panto won’t frighten small children. The panto villains are mainly politicians with jokes the very young theatre-goers will not get but there is still much for them to enjoy. 

Theatre Replacement’s goal is, “Theatrical experiences that are authentic, immediate, and hopeful.”

I’d say that with this production, they have succeeded in spades. 

Yes, this year’s EastVan Panto, Pinocchio, excels in every department – most of all, in entertainment. 

So, wow. It’s the best of the best. 

Pinocchio runs, with a variety of early evening performances and matinees, through Jan. 5 at The Cultch’s York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr. 

For tickets go to the Cultch’s Box Office, phone 604-251-1363, or click www.thecultch.com 

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