The Nanaimo Theatre Group renews its holiday tradition of the Christmas pantomime with a new take on an old classic.
The performance group will stage a rendition of Hansel and Gretel, written by Helen Gard, from Dec. 16-26 at the Bailey Studio in a completely sold-out run.
Tickets for all of 13 shows were gone well before opening night, which co-director Nikita Towe said was in line with previous year’s pre-pandemic productions.
Audience members, however, are not the only ones excited for the celebratory return, as co-director Jim Maher said he’s looked forward to being part of a panto since he saw the group’s last production of Cinderella in 2019.
“Pantos are a very interactive, audience-participation kind of show,” said Maher. “There’s lots of room for humour and jokes … and [Hansel and Gretel] will have a lot of panto traditions … It’s been three years since Nanaimo has seen a big full-scale panto like this, and we’re just bringing people back into the fold of it.”
Since this year’s production is Maher’s debut as a director with the theatre group, he said he’s thankful to have longtime member Towe show him the ropes.
“I tend to like to co-direct with someone to make it a little easier and less stressful,” Towe said. “We went with no separate musical director, as I tend to do my own musical direction, so that was an extra position that was absorbed by us co-directing.”
In her two decades with the Nanaimo Theatre Group, Towe has been a part of nearly every Christmas pantomime since 2003, having directed Cinderella, Robin Hood and His Very Merry Men and Pirates of the Panto.
Towe said the theatre group not only wanted to keep things light and fun, as is tradition, but to take on something the group has never done before – and that Gard’s Hansel and Gretel fit the bill perfectly.
“One thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of other shows don’t have a huge cast … And with this, we’ve got 14,” said Maher. “It’s a massive cast – half of them are kids and it’s just a lot of little pieces moving around.”
Unique to this telling, Maher said, is the introduction of Fairey Willow Wonder-Wand, a character he described as the “ying” to the wicked witch’s “yang.”
“Belladonna Nightshade is trying to capture the kids and possibly eat them as a light snack. And Fairey Willow Wonder Wand … she’s the arch-nemesis … She’s trying to spin things back to good and make sure the kids are safe.”
With his first directorial position, Maher said he “caught the bug” for pantomimes and hopes to direct more in the future.
“I’m really excited for everyone to come and see it. And just welcome back this holiday tradition. It’s going to be so much fun,” he said.