The set and costumes star in East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves

Theatre Replacement is presenting East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves

Laura Zerebeski’s painting, Marina Szijarto’s costumes, and Ming Hudson as Snow White. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Every year, when I go to the East Van Panto, simply walking into the York Theatre is one of my favourite parts. Because of all of the kids in the audience, life suddenly becomes like bubble tea: sweet and devil-may-care. This year’s panto, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves isn’t as good a last year’s Little Red Riding Hood—Hey! It’s not my job to act like Santa Claus—but there’s plenty to like.

In the tradition of British pantomime, playwright Mark Chavez takes a familiar children’s story and twists it. In his telling, Snow White is being held captive in West Vancouver by her wicked stepmother, the Exercise Queen, who won’t let Snow White leave her room, just because her look is a little bit Goth. But Snow White catches glimpses of East Van from her window and dreams of living in a community where using crosswalks is optional.

When Heimlich, the Queen’s unpaid intern, finds he can’t bring himself to kill Snow White in the Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood Memorial Forest, she escapes to Playland, where she couch surfs in the Haunted House with a down-at-heels band called The Seven Dwarves.

There are some memorable laughs in Chavez’s script. The dwarves’ names include Sketchy, Gassy, and Selfie. (Sketchy asks another band member if he can borrow his car “like, for a couple of days, for, like a thing.”) And Chavez peppers his script—lightly—with topical references: dismissing Snow White, the Queen says, “Now make like Sears pension plan and disappear.”

It’s hard to identify the core of the show, though. The scattershot satire mostly hits easy targets: the aerobics-queen business feels at least a couple of decades past its due date, for instance. More importantly, there aren’t enough plot points and there’s not enough narrative tension to make the story compelling. Too often with Snow White, I watched scenes unspooling riffs and listened to songs spinning clever lyrics—as they attempted to play variations on a theme that hadn’t been established.

Fortunately, thanks to scenic illustrator Laura Zerebeski and costumer Marina Szijarto, Snow White looks splendid. Zerebeski’s style—her wavy, hallucinatory renderings of Vancouver cityscapes—has created a signature look for the East Van Pantos. This year, she has painted an astonishing number of backdrops, including a giant rendering of the PNE and a chunk of the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge, that are jaw-dropping.

And Szijarto’s outrageous costumes are like drag for the masses. This year, I particularly love the chorus line of dancing poisoned apples. At a crucial moment, serpentine worms emerge from their rosy bodies—full-length gloves on the actors’ arms.

The performances are also fun. Allan Zinyk returns to the panto this year to play the Queen, and I love the way he adds little throwaways: on her first entrance, the Queen mimes walking down a painted staircase, for instance. Ming Hudson makes a crisp, no-nonsense Snow White. Chirag Naik surprised me with the strength of his singing, and Amy Rutherford brings infectious playfulness to a number of roles.

I also want to mention Evan Rein, a Studio 58 student who is part of the ensemble: he is having such an unapologetic good time, which is crucial to this kind of work. And I want to celebrate musician Ben Elliott because, he’s not just musically skilled, he is also so physically present that his cells are lit up.

I wanted my experience of Snow White to be fuller than it was. But any show that offers children in the audience money to side with the villain—that happens—is okay by me.

EAST VAN PANTO: SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARVES Book by Mark Chavez. Music and lyrics by Veda Hille, with additional music by Ben Elliott. Directed by Anita Rochon. A Theatre Replacement production presented by The Cultch at the York Theatre on Friday, December 1. Continues until January 6.  

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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