The presents are unwrapped and the big holiday dinner eaten.
There’s no school; many folks have a break from work, too. Now the company from out of town is wondering what to do. But never fear, Courtenay Little Theatre’s panto is here!
Celebrating their 10th anniversary of pantomime in the Valley, Courtenay Little Theatre offers family-friendly fun entertainment for all ages over the holiday season. And this is the one time when audience members are encouraged to join the act by cheering and jeering and by shouting warnings and advice.
The Valley’s own award-winning amateur theatre company presents The Magic Tinderbox at the Sid Williams Theatre Dec. 26 through 31 with a special party on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s multi-generational entertainment that has become a Valley tradition,” says director Alana Gowdy. “And there’s nothing terribly scary so it’s suitable for all ages.”
Gowdy notes that pantos have a long history and were used as a way to lift the spirits in prisoner of war camps all over the world during the Second World War.
“I think part of the fun is that there’s always a dame — a man that plays the part of a woman,” she says. “And The Magic Tinderbox is extra special because it has two dames.”
According to Gowdy, the story revolves around a “vaguely villainous” wicked dame who’s after a magic tinderbox. But the only person who can obtain it is “a man with no brain.” So the wicked dame sets out to find such a man and persuade him to help her get what she wants.
The cast of 30 includes villagers, a wimpy king, a wish-granting dog, a princess and much more.
“Thirty people is a full stage at the Sid,” says Gowdy. “We put them on different levels so it really works well.”
Gowdy, who designed the set, wanted something that would provide an elegant background.
Written by Peter Bond, the panto is loosely based on an original story by Hans Christian Andersen and takes place in the 18th century.
“It’s not a medieval horror like some of the Brothers Grimm stories,” explains Gowdy. “It’s more of a Jane Austen-type setting.”
Adding to the ambience are period costumes created under the direction of Gail Limber and her hard-working team.
The story takes place in an imaginary Copenhagen but, like all pantos, will include references to local places, people and events. The production also includes special lighting effects by the Sid’s technical director, Patrick Emry.
“While timing is important in any production,” says Gowdy, “flexibility is really important when it comes to pantos.” That’s because pantos continue to grow and evolve throughout rehearsals.
“Working in humorous references to the Comox Valley is a collaborative effort that everyone takes part in. But it also means more for the characters to remember.”
The cast ranges in age from under 10 to well over 70.
“It’s really fun to watch everyone work, laugh and get weary together,” says Gowdy. “They create funny moments for themselves.
“And I’ve been fortunate to have people with so many talents to draw on. For example, there are some really good singers and one of the children is an excellent gymnast.”
Gowdy acknowledges the huge commitment made by all involved to devote so much time to a project during the buildup to and throughout the holiday season.
“That’s especially true for the children as they have so many opportunities to participate in the arts here.”
Matinee performances of The Magic Tinderbox take place at the Sid Dec. 26 and 30 at 2 p.m. with evening performances on Dec. 27, 28, 29 and 31 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are $15 while all evening performances except Dec. 31 are $18. For $20 the New Years Eve performance includes balloons, noise-makers and great merriment during the countdown to an imaginary midnight.
Tickets are available at the theatre in downtown Courtenay Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by phoning 250-338-2430 ext. 1.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.