Fee-fi-fo-fum,giants in St. Jacobs are running amok. Playing for an extended run until the first week of January at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto is amongst the latest family-friendly offerings from Drayton Entertainment this season.
Penned by Canadian playwright Caroline Smith, the production puts the classic fairytale through the quirky lens of panto-style theatre, introducing a host of new characters and dilemmas, musical numbers and humour far apart from the original tale.
“The funny thing is, it’s getting more well known in Canada because there are lots of pantos being done,” says cast-member Jackie Mustakas of the increasing popularity of panto. “But when they were first introduced, people think that a pantomimes miming and no speaking, when really it is an old form of theatre, a British form of theatre, so it’s been around for years.”
The panto, short for pantomime but confusingly unrelated to any invisible-box shenanigans, rather incorporates elements of musical comedy, improvisation, and crowd participation into plays, with ostentatious villains and charming heroes inviting raucous booing and cheering from the crowd.
“So it’s usually this big musical comedy, it’s family entertainment,” says Mustakas. “And the great thing about them is they take a really well known fairy tale, this one being Jack and the Beanstalk, and then there’s always a little bit of a twist and fun little characters added. And they take political humour and topical humour and popular songs and slapstick comedy. So there’s kind of something in these shows for everyone.”
New characters are the bread and butter of the panto, too, and to that end Mustakas joins the cast as Vera the Vegetable Fairy. Mustakas, a familiar face to Drayton Entertainment productions, will also be recognized by some for her recent collaboration with the Elmira District Secondary School’s drama program,helping to produce the school’s November play, Wonderland Again.
“I’ve been spending yes a lot of time there helping with the drama program, and working with the youth there on their fall show. And then I go in and do some coaching as well for their drama festival,” she says.
On stage, Mustakas will be more recognizable for her signature evil laugh, playing such previous roles as the wicked stepmother and villainous queen and eliciting a great deal of boos and jeers in the process. This season, however, Mustakas is joining the protagonists as Vera, the vegetable fairy responsible for the magical beans at the centre of the story.
“It’s been very interesting, actually. When people found that I’d been doing the evil character for so many years now, and then people were a little thrown off that I won’t be back in the evil chair to be booed out, and they weren’t sure how they felt about that. And it’s been really nice to go on to the good side of tracks,” she says.
“However, I can still say though that there are many children who are booing me, even though I shouldn’t get booed, because I represent vegetables! Can you believe that children dislike their vegetables that much? Whenever I mention that they need to eat their vegetables, I get booed,” she says with a laugh.
The story hits plenty of the familiar beats of fairy tale lore, with the titular Jack, played by Jamie McKnight, trading the family cow for a handful of seemingly ordinary beans, much to his mother’s dismay. But panto rarely follows the well-trodden paths, instead preferring to make liberal use of the source material for dramatic and comedic effect.
In this version of the story, Jack is joined by a multiplicity of characters in his adventures. Opposite Jack is Aaron Walpole as the perhaps rather obviously named bad guy, Evilus Maximus. Antonette Rudder plays the role of Princess Buttercup, Tim Porter as Jack’s younger brother Super Simon and Sheldon Davis as the Town Crier.
And of course, a panto is not complete without a little gender-bending, and fulfilling the role of the “dame” as Jack’s zany mother is Justin Bott.
“I think for anyone looking for a new family tradition, this is where you want to be,” says Mustakas. “For anyone that’s never experienced theatre before, this is a great way to experience it for the first time. And I think if you just want to go on a roller coaster of laughs from beginning to end, and a great night out at the theatre and a community kind of feel, this is where you need to be.”
Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto is playing at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse until January 6. Tickets may be purchased onlineor by calling the box office at (519) 747‐7788 or toll free at 1‐855‐drayton (372‐9866).