A Pantomime Twist on The Little Mermaid

Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society gave new life to an old classic from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3

The cast of The Little Mermaid – The Panto at the end of a performance of the play. The play ran at the Surrey Arts Centre from Nov. 23 until Dec.3. (Jim Nelson)

If you were fortunate enough to see The Little Mermaid – The Panto by the Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society (FVGSS), you managed to be a part of a world of pantomime humour.

The performance, based off of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale about a mermaid named Ariel, was showing from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3 at the Surrey Arts Centre. FVGSS President Barbara Warwick and co-directors Mike Balser and Jeff Christensen adapted the script from an original work by Peter Zednik and, in order to avoid confusion with Disney’s version of the protagonist, changed the mermaid’s name to Calypso.

The FVGSS’s version of the story revolves around Young Calypso (Yasmin Pena) who is obsessed with the world above the waves. Her desire to be a part of human society causes issues with the sea witch named Dame Ursula (Drew Hart). To make matters worse, Calypso falls in love with a human prince, Prince Airwick the Solid (Jenn Tiles) whom she rescues from a storm. Calypso will do anything to be with her love, even if she has to make a regrettable deal with Ursula.

Walking into the Surrey Civic Theatre at the Surrey Arts Centre for a showing of The Little Mermaid – The Panto felt like being under the sea. The stage was beautifully decorated with a big, glittery clam shell, a calming blue sea backdrop, and an open reef for the band to play in. There was even a fake shark that swam around in front of the audience.

One of the traditions with pantomime is that some actors play characters of the opposite gender. The principal boy or prince is always played by a young woman, while the dame role, typically a woman in a leadership position, is always played by a man. Dame Ursula, Prince Airwick, and Queen Hypochondria (Christopher Hall) all practiced this tradition.

“It’s not [meant] to make political statements, it’s just fun,” says Warwick.

Queen Hypochondria and Dame Ursula delivered the two standout performances of the night. Queen Hypochondria was the stereotypical, overbearing mother, but the exaggerated expressions that she wore worked to her advantage. It’s not common to cheer on a villian, but Hart made the character likeable, delivering witty lines like, “You’d think I was a monster, like a Kardashian.”

Another panto tradition is making jokes about current events. One might not anticipate hearing about the housing crisis or the NDP-Green Party alliance during a play—let alone a fairy-tale—but such topics were snappily incorporated into the performance.

“We just love being silly,” says Warwick.

Every character managed to bring music to the stage despite some technical difficulties with the actors’ microphones and loudness of the band. The musical numbers “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana and “Evil Woman” were performed particularly well.

Hearing more contemporary songs like “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida during the play was refreshing. Tamara Jaune and Elisabeth “Bizzy” Lay’s choreography shone during the performance of the song, with actors tap dancing on stage to the excitement of their audience.

For Warwick, being a part of FVGSS and the Surrey arts community is a passion, and this project was a result of that love for theatre.

“One of the biggest treats for me is that I work [at the theatre],” Warwick says. “It’s fun to show off your project to your friends.”

If you loved The Little Mermaid – The Panto or would like to see another FVGSS show, its spring production, Iolanthe, will run from May 16 to 20 at the Anvil Centre Theatre in New Westminster.


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