East Van Panto: Hansel & GretelWhat a hoot! This year the East Van Panto delights family-filled audiences with the Grimm brothers’ fairytale, Hansel & Gretel. What a talented cast! Beautiful singing voices, hysterical timing and line delivery, and an impressive ability to morph into a variety of characters (many of the supporting actors played multiple roles).

If you have never been to a panto (aka pantomime), don’t worry the narrator gives you a crash course in “audience responsibilities” when attending a panto. Pantos are perfect for families! Kids are encouraged to boo the bad guys and cheer the good guys. Our two young sons are still running around the house with one yelling “oh, no it isn’t”, while the other responds “oh, yes it is”. There are also countless jokes intended for the adults which fly over the heads of the kids. I was also a big fan of the many East Van landmarks which received a shout out in the play: Earnest Ice Cream and Beta 5 Chocolates were two that stood out for me. Comments on the political scene, both locally and federally, were also great fodder for the actors: the viaducts coming down and the changes in Ottawa elicited a number of heart chuckles from the grown ups in the audience.

The script for Hansel & Gretel was written by Charles Demers. If you listen to The Debaters on CBC you will be familiar with the witty brilliance of Mr Demers. The creation of the East Van Panto is 11 months in the making. Script writing starts in the new year with the first table read in the Spring. A second draft gets bandied about in the summer. At that point the York Theatre invites dozens of kids to participate in the panto-process. As the year trudges on, the hilarious folks memorize their lines, build sets, and assemble costumes. The final weeks bring music and lights to the creation. A labour of love which results in great laughter for the audience.

The East Van Panto remained very true to the Grimm brothers’ tale. They even mentioned the large duck at the end. As they said “Google it” there really is a duck that makes no sense whatsoever at the end of the tale. I did love their sense of compassion when it came to burning the witch at the end. Hansel & Gretel broke the 4th wall and told the audience they didn’t feel it was right to end a children’s Christmas panto with the burning of a witch. So compassion was shown, the witch was retrieved from the oven, and set out the door with a roasted bottom. On behalf of all parents, thank you East Van Panto for making that change. You saved us all a million and one questions about “what happened to the witch”.

Oh and heads up the show is at the York Theatre – one of three theatres run by The Cultch. Don’t go to the red house on Venables St, you are looking for the York Theatre on Commercial Drive. Not that we made that mistake…