Discovering the Nelson pantomime
“So everybody here knows what the Pantomime is, right?” director Laurie Jarvis began. The seats of the Capitol Theatre were occupied by a crowd of eager, energetic performers, the house lights were on, and open auditions for this year’s annual Christmas Pantomime, Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of Buskerville were about to begin. Her question was met with an affirmative buzz of dozens of voices. But of course! Well, obviously!
I tentatively raised my hand: “Um, well, what’s a pantomime?”
It’s three months later and for the past week, I haven’t known what to do with myself. My Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons are suddenly open, I have strange new calluses on both of my hands (more on that later), my voice is sore from barking, arfing, woofing, and bowwowing (yes, more on that later, too), and I suddenly have a new-found respect for quadrupedal movement. I’m humming parodied versions of classic songs that I just can’t get out of my head.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I had the strange and wonderful fortune to play role of the eponymous “hound” in the 25th annual pantomime.
As a relative newcomer to Nelson, I had attended the pantomime auditions mostly as a way to become more engaged in and connected to the community. I had heard that it was a fundraiser for the Capitol Theatre, but I didn’t know much else. I’d done some theatre in high school, mostly minor roles — and more than eight years ago — but had never really considered it as something that I would ever go back to. If I could just join in a group experience, maybe get a line, sing a song, and get to know people, perhaps I could feel like part of the community. And then, a few days after auditions, I got a call: “Eli, would you be willing to play Holmes’ dog, Baskerville? It will be very physical and uncomfortable!”
I didn’t even think twice about my answer.
The pantomime was truly a unique and communal experience. In no other population of just 10,000 people could I imagine finding another dedicated arts group such as this one. Dozens of people, willing to slap ridiculous outfits on, step out onto an exposed stage, and play the fool for the hundreds of audience members, cheering, goading, booing (good-naturedly), participating, and singing along.
One of the most impressive things about the pantomime was the multigenerational involvement. The cast and crew ranged in age from six to 60, and no lines between generations were ever drawn. It takes a unique city to make this sort of magic, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend my first year here.
Throughout the whole run, I routinely cycled back and forth between favourite characters and moments. Highlights from the experience include, but are not restricted to, the goofy slapstick chemistry of the MC bobbies, Nedine Scott and Rob Andrew; the Dame, Craig Korth’s, ad-libbed one-liners; Leslie Dickinson’s dedication to sewing the perfect dog costume, an endeavour that took more than 30 hours of work; Dustin Cantwell’s scene-stealing facial expressions as Dr. Watson; June Spearman’s impeccably arranged props table; Lisel Forst’s hilariously deranged villain, Professor Mariarty; the army of talented children that took time out of playing tag in the aisles to dance and sing on stage; and, of course, the ceaseless efforts of the director and playwriter, Laurie Jarvis and her daughter, Hannah, who did all the play’s choreography.
As the dog, Baskerville, I was the only member of the cast who neither sang nor danced. However, I made up for this by running around on all fours enough to build up calluses on my hands and an aching in my calf muscles. I got to crouch around on the stage, watch the proceedings as an audience member might, glance upwards as wild and weird things happened above me, react, laugh, break character, and — as in any great pantomime — play along.
Eli Geddis is a writer, Vurb contributor, musician, and children’s arts instructor in Nelson. He doesn’t have a dog of his own yet, but hopes to change that soon. You can find him on the great wide internet on twitter @theoddtopsy