Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
There is a new she-ro in Panto Land. Torrent Productions’ first two pantos in 2016 and 2017 featured Robin Hood and Pinocchio, two male heroes. This holiday season, the company makes a deliberate shift with Cinderella: A Merry Magical Pantomime. “We thought it was time that a female takes the lead,” explain director Robert Torr and Dora-Award winning choreographer Stephanie Graham, who form Torrent Productions’ husband-and-wife production team.“Cinderella is a timeless tale, and the story will remain close to the original with a panto flair and lots of local references.”
The team has a humble holiday ambition: for their treatment of this familiar classic to leave contemporary audiences with the “knowledge and confirmation that being good and kind never goes out of style”. Of course, the success of any tale is in the telling, and typical to Torrent tradition, Rob has written and is directing, and Stephanie is choreographing their panto version of the tale. It is based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale about a widower who marries a haughty, cruel widow, and inherits her two mean-spirited daughters as part of the bargain. The three make life unbearable for his daughter, the patient and forgiving Cinderella.
The familiar story is ripe with comic potential, satiric broad strokes and caricature. But how are Rob and Stephanie choosing to interpret this chestnut for diverse, modern audiences? The couple tantalize with hints: the fairy godmother and Prince have gone missing, and the story will take some unsuspected turns. So it seems unlikely that this Cinderella will wring her ashy hands by the fireplace, pining for her prince to rescue her from her torment and tedium. Stephanie and Rob will neither confirm nor deny, preferring to keep plot twists and their staging “a secret for now”. However, they do promise “lots of singing and dancing and audience participation”, as is customary at Torrent pantos. So audiences should gear up for the show with participatory gusto: cheers, jeers, boos, and belly laughs are not just encouraged . . .they are required!
Performing in a panto requires versatile triple-threat skills. This is an exercise in acting, singing and dancing at a sustained high level of energy. Actors must deliver fast-paced performances, topical jokes and broad, physical comedy while maintaining sufficient inner calm to flow with the dynamic of a given audience. Originally an English Christmas tradition, the last 20 years have seen pantos grow popular in the Toronto area. Despite the com-panto-tition, Torrent Productions’ Merry Magical Pantomimes have quickly gained traction. The high-calibre talent, affordable ticket prices and homey Riverdale venue have made them a holiday hot ticket: “Our Merry Magical Pantomimes are produced and performed by professionals, but retain a community feel that our audiences connect with, and that is why they are rapidly becoming an annual tradition.”
As in years past, this year’s panto cast is made up of “incredible performers” whose performance credits that range from the Stratford Festival to The Shaw Festival, The Charlottetown Festival, European tours and Off-Broadway. Brittany Banks will play the title role of Cinderella. Joining her are Greg Campbell (Baron Hardup), Stuart Dowling (Silly Sister), JJ Berber (Dandini), Erin Keaney (Fairy), Ryan A. Rogerson (Silly Sister), Shawn Wright (Villain) and Gaelen Beatty as Buttons. “They have performed on stages from coast to coast in Canada and around the world,” enthuse Rob and Stephanie, and they are readying to captivate Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood this December. Though in the throes of rehearsals, Rob and Stephanie send out a warm “happy holidays to everyone,” along with the reminder to “get your tickets soon”. With the holiday season gathering momentum, it is no surprise that some performances of Cinderella: A Merry Magical Pantomime are already sold out.
The website description provokes: “Will Cinderella meet her Prince? Will we have a happy ending this year?” Patience – and your ticket – will soon reveal all!
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What: Cinderella: A Merry Magical Pantomime, Written and Directed by Rob Torr; Choreography by Stephanie Graham; Musical Direction by Giustin MacLean; Stage Management by Alice Ferreyra; Lighting Design by Joe Pagnan
Performed by Brittany Banks (Cinderella), Greg Campbell (Baron Hardup), Stuart Dowling (Silly Sister), JJ Berber (Dandini), Erin Keaney (Fairy), Ryan A. Rogerson (Silly Sister), Shawn Wright (Villain) and Gaelen Beatty (Buttons)
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: December 21 – 30, 2018
Where: Royal Canadian Legion Branch #001, 243 Coxwell Avenue, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: www.torrentproductions.com
© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine