Giggles galore at Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto

The inaugural production at the newly renovated York Theatre opened this weekend

Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto at the newly restored York Theatre
“Panto is short for Pantomime. East Van is short for really freaking good time.” From L to R: Allan Zinyk, Maiko Bae Yamamoto, Raugi Yu, Dawn Petten, and Patti Allan. Photo credit: Emily Cooper.

Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto is the inaugural production of the newly renovated York Theatre, operated by The Cultch. Produced by Theatre Replacement, the panto was written by comedian and author Charlie Demers with musical direction by Veda Hille. Demers wit and Hille’s tunes are well matched in this wacky show.

The pantomime tradition is common in the UK around Christmas, but doesn’t lose a beat when crossing the pond. The stories are usually based on well-known fairy tales and feature songs, audience participation, and gender-crossing roles. The charming cast of five deftly perform multiple character roles, conduct sing-alongs, and have musical interludes set to possibly recognizable pop songs. Narrated by sleazy real estate agent Ray Nador (Raugi Yu), the audience is briefed on how a panto works, and encouraged to play along—which children and adults alike do with enthusiasm.

The underlying theme of this reimagining is housing affordability and gentrification. Jack (Maiko Bae Yamamoto) and his mom (Allan Sinyk) live near Commercial Drive and have to sell the family cow, Old Mudder Udder (Dawn Petten & Patti Allan), for cash. Jack takes Mudder Udder to the Farmer’s Market, but on the way he encounters Nador with some magic soybeans. Convinced by Nadar’s sales tactics, Jack trades the cow for the beans and goes home (to his mother’s dismay).

Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto at the newly restored York Theatre
From L to R: Raugi Yu, Maiko Bae Yamamoto, Dawn Petten, Patti Allan. Photo credit: Emily Cooper.

Pantos are definitely geared toward a family-friendly audience, but there are also subtle jokes just for the older viewers—such as the hydroponic lamp in the basement that Jack uses on the magic beans. Even when the subject matter touches on adult matters, such as politics, the actors’ mannerisms and tone of voice still allow younger viewers to follow along in the banter.

Local artist Laura Zerebski painted the three vivid and whimsical backdrops in her signature distorted style. The panorama features Ken Lum’s East Van cross, bright orange harbour cranes, and our iconic mountain peaks includes a moving skytrain. Jack’s house is a Vancouver Special style with cut-out kitchen window. And the Giant’s condo in the sky has floor-to-ceiling windows and a view that only 1% of the population could afford. These additions to Pat Johnson’s set and prop design convey the location and the mood perfectly.

Even if you’re not from East Vancouver, you’ll still get the jokes and references—many of which are general to Metro Vancouver. So settle into the newly renovated York Theatre and prepare yourself for Jack and the Beanstalk, a weird and wacky panto—and don’t forget to join in!

The Cultch and Theatre Replacement present Jack & the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto, Dec. 4-29 at the York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr., Vancouver. Tickets from $18, available at thecultch.com or by calling 604-251-1363.

More about the York Theatre

Originally built in 1913 as The Alcazar, the theatre is located at 639 Commercial Drive, on the corner of East Georgia Street. It has had a number of faces since then as a venue for theatre, cinema, and even live punk music. Various name changes have occurred too since the original moniker of the Alcazar Theatre: The Palace, Vancouver Little Theatre, the York Theatre, the New York, and the Raja Theatre.

In 1981, Tom Durrie founded the Save the York Theatre Society when the current owners announced their intention to demolish it. The building sat empty since the early 2000s and in 2008 Heritage Vancouver listed it as one of the Top Endangered Sites in the city. After many meetings with financial, community, and cultural supporters, a feasibility study was conducted in 2008 to assess the restoration and redevelopment of the building. The Cultch and Wall Financial Corporation with official support from the City of Vancouver are to thank for this gem being restored. Now, the community can welcome a new chapter in the theatre’s history.

The York is a mid-sized venue with seating capacity for 370, which is a much-needed and under-served size for live performance venues in the city. There are a handful of theatres and black box set-ups that can seat less than 300 patrons such as The Orpheum Annex, the Waterfront Theatre, and The Cultch’s Historic Theatre, but the next size up for capacity is more than 600 at venues like the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage and the Vancouver Playhouse. There are also very few venues in the 800-1,000 range as the next tier is the Queen Elizabeth, the Vogue, and the Orpheum which all seat 2,000-plus.

The York Theatre will be operated by The Cultch and serve primarily as a rental venue. The outer façade has been restored to its 1940s art deco style, and the interior has a two-story glass lobby with a licensed bar.

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