The Nanaimo Theatre Group is capping off 2017 with its first-ever fairy tale musical.
The local theatre company is staging a production of Puss in Boots by British playwright Ben Crocker for its annual Christmas pantomime.
The play tells the story a commoner and his talking cat attempting to save a princess from being married off to a wicked ogre. A pantomime, or “panto,” is an over-the-top musical with exaggerated characters and bright costumes and typically includes drag. For example, the male protagonist might by played by a woman, while the queen is played by a man.
The play marks the Nanaimo Theatre Group debut for stage director Judy Powers. Powers hails from Edmonton and directed children’s plays in Calgary but this is her first pantomime.
“The panto is such a popular thing here in Nanaimo and on the Island. I think it’s because of the British influence,” she said.
“We didn’t have pantos in Alberta. It’s interesting that it’s so popular and it’s fun and I see, I don’t want to say a ‘cult following,’ but there’s a following. The panto following.”
Powers said she’s been leaning on her experience with children’s theatre during the production of Puss in Boots. She said the two forms are similar in their storytelling and teaching element and how their characters display the “essence” of humanity.
She described the last two months of rehearsals and preparations and fun and challenging due to the number of characters, scenes, costume changes and technical effects. They’ve only been rehearsing in full costume for the past couple weeks and she’s impressed with how the show is coming together.
“Just in the last, say, week of November did we start to see all the layers come into play and I’m amazed with the speed,” Powers said.
“One day you’re at one place and the costumes and the sound, it helps the actors to create a whole character. Once they have that costume on they walk differently. They move differently.”
She added that an early audience was enthusiastic after sitting in for a sneak peek of one of the scenes. Audience participation and fourth-wall breaking are typical of pantomimes, said Powers, as is a general disregard for the rules of conventional theatre.
“We can see the inside of the character more readily. So if someone’s falling in love, you actually get the love music, the happy dance, that kind of thing,” she said.
“It’s a challenge for the actors because they have to play on many levels at one time. They have to really give to the playful atmosphere and be willing to take lots of risks.”
WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo Theatre Group production of Puss in Boots at Bailey Studio from Dec. 21 to 23 and 26 to 31 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 23, 26, 30 and 31 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets $16.