LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD: EAST VAN PANTO
YORK THEATRE, 23rd November - 31st December 2016
By Penny Warwick
It was my first East Van Panto, as a Brit I have been unfairly shunning the pantomime performances in town, somehow insisting to myself they would not live up to the gooey silliness of those I have seen in England. However, I had previously heard very good things about the East Van Panto and this show was written by Mark Chavez who has written for both BBC and Film4, so once I saw that the team included Veda Hille as Music Director and Andrew McNee as the Wolf, I was sold.
This is a story which is very well known so there is little need to delve into it, except to say that there were some very clever modern/local switches to the traditional tale. Red Riding Hood is riding her bike along with everyone else, and instead of visiting Grandma in the woods, she was in the Woodwards building. The comedy starts immediately in this production and keeps a high level of laughs throughout and has just the right amount of 'oh no and oh yes' and 'behind you's.
What I think I enjoyed most was the longer time that we spent in the wolf's tummy, which allowed for more characters and story to be introduced than just the traditional tale. An intertwined story of the three little pigs reveals to us that the Big Bad Wolf is the same one that now ensnares our little Red.
There is not one weak link in this cast and the ensemble do a great job switching roles. For me Andrew McNee absolutely steals the show, he is a great MC as 'The East Van Panto Holiday Claus' to warm up the crowd at the beginning of act one and two and as the Wolf he is silliness to perfection. His amended rendition of Duran Duran's "Hungry like Myself" was a particularly brilliant moment. Chirac Naik is also wonderfully cast as the Third Little Pig, who has now been taken slave by the Wolf. He has great comic timing and a wonderfully expressive face.
The musicality of the show is the real star here. Veda Hille (of Arts Club ONEGIN fame) has managed to weave twenty-four songs together, not only are the choices spot-on they are seamlessly mashed-up and molded. Not an easy feat I am sure. One thing that I did find odd was the use of hand-held microphones for the lead vocals... I appreciate that this may have been a stylistic choice and it did work as a prop in a couple of the numbers but for the grand majority of the show their use looked cumbersome and sometimes clumsy.
To be honest there are so many tiny, perfect moments in the production it is hard to pick out best parts - and part of Panto is the element of surprise so I don't really want to give any spoilers. The relevance of the references is spot on.
So, my worries about a Canadian Pantomime are suitably quashed, and I certainly will be making an annual pilgrimage to the East Van Panto from now on.
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Josh Dafoe
Okay. I have a confession. I may be really hit and miss with musicals, some good, most I find tiresome, but I absolutely LOATHE pantos. They are crap! To me they always seemed to be like a canker sore that shows up once a year. I should leave it alone and wait for it to go away, but for some reason I just gotta stick my tongue on it and suffer. Sorry to use such simple language, but that's me, your average guy drinking a beer that likes to be entertained and sometimes doesn't bite his tongue. Okay, when I was young and going to these kinds of shows, I had fun yelling at the silly people on stage, but then I got old. And probably cranky. So, I'm not gonna pretend to like something that's dull is wonderful just because it's supposed to be some hilarious bit of traditional entertainment from Britain my grandma loved as a kid. I don't sit through church anymore either grandma, sorry. Panto? Ugh, my stomach is turning already.
Then I went to East Van Panto. Suddenly I was that kid again that actually liked this stuff. Why? Because these guys do it well! It was as if I were the Grinch with my heart growing three sizes but I realized it wasn't that I got old and bitter, it was that I just kept getting bad shows back to back to back and it soured me. Mark Chavez and Anita Rochon have combined talents and really knocked this out of the park. I laughed, I joined in the yelling of "He's behind you!" and I guffawed uproariously at the bawdy humor the children hopefully didn't quite understand. Hopefully.
Andrew McNee absolutely killed it as the Wolf even if he failed to kill Little Red in the end (spoiler, but you really should know that already) although his performance was greatly enhanced by his beard. Chirag Naik was wonderful as 2 out of 3 pigs and truth be told the entire cast poured themselves into this and made a believer out of a Holiday Humbug that is me. The children had such a great time watching the performers, no yawning and actively engaged, that I found it impossible to not stay upbeat and chuckling all the while as well. Children's laughter is infectious like that.
Musically this show had me going with enough beats from my childhood and beyond to current hits that I can't really pick a favourite, but I was nodding along to the songs more than once and a big congrats to the design of this show. Bright splashes of colour matching the mood of the scenes. My fave was Grandma and the Wolf in the dark. Oh! Maybe the Wolf tummy... hard to decide really.
If you haven't already and have kids, go see this show, if you're a kid at heart, go see this show, just go see this show if you like to laugh because something will strike that funny bone. As for myself I am going to make sure I go see next year's production. I can't believe I missed all the previous ones because this is just what's needed in a stressful shopping season.