Hansel and Gretel – an East Van Panto

UBT Review: Hansel and Gretel

My childhood memories of attending pantomimes are pretty limited – my only recollection is that of a visit to the James Cowan Theatre in Burnaby to see Gumboot Lollipop, upon which my mother would always volunteer me or my poor hapless brother to go up on stage. So, it’s a fond – albeit nervous – memory that was shaping how I was going to react to The York Theatre’s East Van Panto. And might I mention that my four-year-old daughter in tow kept asking if the witch was going to put her in the oven?

I was pleasantly surprised, and left the York theatre last Friday night with sore sides from laughing.

As I reside in the Fraser Valley, I feel a bit out of touch with the culture of East Vancouver. A swinging Saturday for me includes a trip to Costco and Willowbrook Mall. But once the East Van Panto got underway with their quirky and wonderful rendition of Hansel and Gretel, I found myself wishing that I, too, belonged to the culture of Commercial Drivers and Sunrisers.

To say Hansel and Gretel was charming and brilliantly written would be an understatement. The initial musical interlude, complete with the wit and charm of Veda
Hille and her ensemble set the tone. The backdrop set, painted by Laura Zerebeski, is bright, spooky, cartoon-esque and almost reminded me of Emily Carr. The narrator of the show was a barista who, fittingly, couldn’t spell or read the names of whom the drinks he brewed belonged to. And the first musical act was complete with beard-sporting, plaid wielding hipsters marching around with their coffees and mason jar mugs. Let’s not forget the adorable children that were part of the show, complete with their Bludnstone boots.

The Cultch did a splendid job of recreating the story of Hansel and Gretel, who are left in the forest because of a wicked stepmother who no longer wants to spend her money to feed them (really, it’s because evil stepmother is a food blogger and her bad reviews put all the restaurants in town out of business and sent them packing – so there’s actually nothing left to eat). So, as you can see, in this case, the traditional tale adapts its storyline to a sense of humor that only those who live in the Vancouver area would understand. For example, instead of the traditional forest, the kids are left out in Stanley Park, and are infiltrated in the early morning hours by Lululemon wearing, yoga posing joggers. I laughed so hard!

The show is full of hilarious 80’s musical numbers, cabaret chorus lines and even a hysterical rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, complete with a giant gingerbread man jumping around like Justin Timberlake on the Ellen Degeneres show a few years back. Hansel and Gretel’s characters are well acted and delightful – my daughter particularly loved Hansel and his goofy personality. But it was hands down Allan Zinyk, who plays the Dame Edna drag queen reminiscent step mother/witch who stole the show. His pink brocade skirt suit, nasal voice and tongue-out taunting of the audience left everyone hollering in delight.

The best line of the night? When poor Hansel compares his immobility in the witch’s oven to Roberto Luongo’s rigid contract and no trade clause – upon which Gretel replies that “that joke would have been funny in the 2013 panto”.

I can’t wait to see what the Cultch comes up with next, and I will definitely be bringing my family! The East Van Panto plays at the York Theater until January 3, 2016. For more information check outwww.thecultch.com/events/hansel-and-gretel-an-east-van-panto

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