DECEMBER 2021 | Volume 210
Photo by Emily Cooper.
East Van Panto: Alice in Wonderland
by Sonja Bennett
York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr.
Nov. 24-Jan. 2
From $69 in person; from $35 online
www.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363
This year’s East Van Panto, the ninth, has a new playwright in actress and TV screenwriter Sonja Bennett, and a new director in Meg Roe. They have very good pedigrees. The great Veda Hille is back as composer, although she isn’t at her usual piano and I missed her badly. Ben Elliott takes her place, with Barry Mirochnick on drums.
Four veteran cast members return: Dawn Petten is wonderfully energetic as ten-year-old Alice, with much fun made of how old she really might be. Amanda Sum is the sly Cheshire Cat, or rather Chester Cat. Mark Chavez overacts like crazy as the Queen of Heart’s second-in-command and the Mad Hatter. Raugi Yu plays multiple parts, including a perfect Greta Thunberg, my favourite character. New to the cast, Ghazal Azarbad is the sensationally superbad Queen of Hearts, proprietor of the Super Giant Evil Online Store. She aims to conquer the universe, beginning by wiping out independent businesses on Commercial Drive.
Who’s going to stop her? Alice, of course, coming from New Westminster to Grandview-Woodland, I mean -Wonderland, following the White Rabbit who promises her a free phone. There are some very clever stops along the way: a terrific Springsteen parody song, a municipal tea party featuring old Lefties from COPE (“the Coalition of … Pyrogies?” Chester Cat wonders), a discussion of the morality of ordering from the Super Giant Evil Online Store (“Of course we can … as long as we feel vaguely bad about it”), and three cute Cookies, planted early in the performance, revealed at the end as … okay, I won’t say. I also enjoyed the epic climax, played out to the Disney song “Let It Go,” which I learned from my two little granddaughters. And Barb Clayden’s costumes are always a delight.
But the show takes quite a while to get going. After the long intermission, the opening of the second act is baffling. And a reliance on fart jokes is never a very good sign unless you’re Mel Brooks.
But then, I’m an old guy who has sat through these pantos year after year and this is aimed at kids and hipsters and first-timers for whom the shine hasn’t worn off. Even I can’t say Humbug! to the good-natured, creative fun in East Van Pantoland.
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