Tradition and family in a magical tale
By Clive Ramroop, Contributor
Ellie King has been the director and writer of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s pantos for years, and was recently honoured as a Civic Treasure by the Surrey Board of Trade for her contributions to the arts. The Other Press caught up with King after a promotional photo shoot to discuss her latest production, Cinderella.
Without giving away any spoilers, what can viewers expect to see in Cinderella?
[At that moment, an animatronic prop horse whinnies in the background.]
Obviously, a horse. Lots of noise, lots of colour, lots of silly old jokes. The ugliest stepsisters you’ve probably ever seen in your entire life. Just lots of fun for the whole family.
What was the decision behind splitting the show’s run between two venues this year?
We decided it was time to explore new fields, but we want to stay with our fans in Surrey, because we know we have a big following in Surrey. People have followed us from the Metro, to the [defunct] Burr [Theatre], to Surrey, and back to Surrey. We don’t want to let our fans down there, but we felt it was time to spread our wings and try new pastures as well. That’s why we thought we’d go to Maple Ridge.
What was your first exposure to panto, and why do you think it stuck with you over the years?
I was two-and-a-half; I was a sapphire in Dick Whittington. I grew up doing panto in Britain, and I learnt my style of panto from the old guys who had been on the road doing panto professionally. They came with all the gags. I learnt from them until I was about 17 or 18, and I’ve played just about every role. Except dame.
Panto is also a family affair for you, also involving your husband Geoff as musical director and elder son James on stage. Would you tell our readers a bit more detail on their full duties in panto-land?
Geoff, he’s my musical director. You know that hokey song, “Wind Beneath My Wings”? That would be Geoff. He does so much stuff, it’s hard to even begin to put into words. He writes and arranges music and records it; all of it comes from his talented fingers. It’s not pre-recorded stuff—he actually lays down every single track to build orchestras and bands. Then we write together; he’ll write original compositions and I write the lyrics with him. He is my pyrotechnician; he will design, build, and explode multiple things on stage.
Like your own Michael Bay?
Well, boom, y’know? We work together to design the scenery, and then he will build it. Where we’re sitting right now, we have spent part of this afternoon talking about scenery. We’ll be spending dinnertime talking about scenery. And tomorrow morning, we’ll be talking about scenery. He also serves as a director on the Board of Directors for the [Royal Canadian Theatre] Company. Apart from that, he doesn’t do a damn thing. Nothing.
You’ve also written your own panto scripts for many years, but have occasionally been on stage for some of them in the past. Do you ever get that Orson Welles itch to return on stage for one of your pantos one more time?
No. It was never my plan to be on stage in the first place. I think it’s a bad idea to direct and be on stage at the same time. But the producer who was putting the shows together, it was his decision to do that. He was the man paying the piper, so I danced to the tune; what can I say? No, not while I’m directing.
Cinderella will be playing from December 20 to 29 at the Surrey Arts Centre and from January 2 to 5 at the ACT Theatre in Maple Ridge. For ticket information, contact the Surrey Arts Centre box office at 604-501-5566 or the ACT Ticket Centre at 604-476-2787.
Tune in next week for part four of British Pantomime 101!