James King (second from left) performs the dame role alongside other characters from Langley. Courtesy Royal Canadian Theatre Company

Langley director puts a twist on classic fairytale

Ellie King is the director of an upcoming British Pantomime production.

A Brookswood director is putting a twist on a classic fairy tale with her upcoming production of “Hansel, Gretel and the Strolling Players.”

Ellie King directs the show through the Royal Canadian Theatre Company (RCTC) , and said the fairy tale has a few big differences from the original story.

“I found it’s a little too scary these days so I’ve changed it. Instead of the witch eating children, she turns them into elves.”

Ellie’s version of Hansel and Gretel is a traditional British pantomime–a form of musical family comedy that dates back 400-500 years ago– and it follows all of the traditional rules of a pantomime, according to Ellie.

“We stick to the rules. It sounds dry and boring but it’s a huge amount of fun.”

Some of the rules are that the leading character goes through a journey, and there’s a battle between good and evil.

Ellie’s son, James King, is playing the role of the Dame named Lotta Wobbledart, which is one of the “comedy centerpieces” of the show.

“It’s one of the comedy archetypes of panto. Essentially it’s a man in a dress playing a cheeky female character. There’s a lot of audience interaction, there’s a lot of flirtatious behaviour with other characters but it’s at such a level that it works with adults and children at the same time.”

This show is James’ first time taking on a dame role, and he said he’s “really enjoying it.”

“I’ve had a fantastic time.”

Some of his favourite scenes of the show are a school room scene with a series of rapid fire gags and humour, and the “behind you gag” where kids get to point out scary monsters behind the performers.

“I get to interact directly with the kids and it’s a lot of fun. They have a fantastic time jumping up and down and shouting. Most importantly, it’s a huge amount of fun.”

Ellie added the script is original. She writes an original script for RCTC every year, and has since 1989, so a lot of work goes into these annual productions.

“I started writing next year’s now in my head. I get ideas for the next one while we’re rehearsing this one.”

And as for working directly with her family, Ellie said she’s “very fortunate,” noting James is involved, as is her husband Geoff – who’s serving as the technical and music director, as well as her sister, Jean “Mac” Blackburn, who’s front of house coordinator.

“The fact my family is also involved means I get to see them, otherwise it might be a little difficult. I’m very fortunate I have talented family members. It’s a joy to work with them.”

The show runs from Dec. 21 to 30 at the Surrey Arts Centre at 13750 88 Ave., Surrey, and from Jan 4 to 5 at the Massey Theatre at 735 Eighth Ave., New Westminster.

For show times, tickets, and more information, visit http://www.rctheatreco.com/season/

RCTC is also putting on a relaxed performance on Dec. 27 at the Surrey Arts Centre, which is a show designed for those with intellectual and other disabilities to feel comfortable and able to enjoy live theatre.

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