If you want to find the director of this year’s Christmas Pantomime, just listen for the woman laughing loudest at the show.
For the past two months, Karen Agnew has been working with the massive cast of 55 local actors, getting them ready for this weekend’s performances of Rapunzel. Now it’s her chance to just sit back and take in the action.
“It’s my favourite kind of humour,” said Agnew, who was born in Britain where the pantomime tradition originated. “I love the silly, physical comedy. It’s the kind of thing I grew up with.”
Agnew is no stranger to the Capitol Theatre. She’s directed more than 30 performances there, including operas like La Boheme and The Merry Widow and seven pantomimes.
Sydney Black plays the evil witch who locks Rapunzel in the tower to keep her away from men. Most recently seen starring in her own production of Cabaret, Black has been in the occasional pantomime — including Sinbad, directed by Agnew at least 10 years ago.
“She’s great to work with,” Black said of the director. “She loves all the pantomime gags — like when people trip and fall or hit their heads on things — she’s brought a lot of that into the show.”
Agnew is also true to the stock characters that show up in pantomimes. The villain needs to be extra evil, the dame particularly ugly, and the hero overly charming.
“She’s always telling us, ‘Make it big. Over Act it,’” Black said. “That’s how pantomimes are, traditionally. She really holds true to that.”
While pantomimes always follow a predictable storyline, there’s room for the director to make it their own. One unique element in this year’s show is the four-piece travelling gypsy band that provides live accompaniment for a number of the show’s musical number.
“I was really bored with the way the music was done in the past — the same piano in the same place,” Agnew said. “It was a lot of work for the band to learn all the music on top of their roles for the show. They needed to rehearse twice as much as everyone else.”
Both the prince (Eli Geddis) and Rapunzel (Stephanie Procter) play their own ukuleles for their songs. And the keyboardist is still around — though not on stage — you can hear her providing sound effects on her synthesizer and playing along with one of the songs in the show.
This year’s cast includes some new faces not before seen on the Capitol stage, like Darren Fuss playing the prince’s assistant and city councillor Deb Kozak among the villagers.
There’s also many theatre veterans like Evie Clare playing a dancing bear, Mackenzie Hope as the dame, Michel Pearce hiding behind a big beard as the only man among the villages, and Mary Defeo in the role of the good fairy.
Agnew was amazed by the level of talent that came out to audition.
“I could have cast the show three times with the number of people that came out,” she said. “I feel incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing group of people to work with.”
She credits her best friend Pat Henman for encouraging her to get back into directing after an eight-year hiatus and knows that Henman put the bug in the ear of many of the actors who are in the show.
“People like Sydney [Black] who could be putting on shows of their own have volunteered their time to be a part of this little community production and help out the Capitol Theatre,” Agnew said.
The pantomime is a fundraiser for the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Capitol Theatre. Proceeds from ticket sales help the theatre support its presentation series and other programming throughout the year.
The pantomime opens tonight and will continue until Sunday. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on December 5, 6 and 7 and 2 p.m. on December 7 and 8.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and $45 for a family of four, available at the box office an hour before each show. The box office will also be open on today and Friday from noon and 4:30 p.m. To charge by phone call 250-352-6363.
Tickets can also be purchased online anytime at capitoltheatre.bc.ca.