By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press
November 23, 2023
PORT DOVER—This holiday season, Port Dover’s famous Lighthouse Festival Theatre is offering something new. Adding to their highly successful and frequently hilarious summer festival series, the creative team at Lighthouse is proud to present a new annual tradition: the holiday pantomime (panto for short).
This year’s inaugural offering, Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto, is playing in Dover from November 29 to December 9 and at Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre from December 13-17.
While Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel has been thrilled to see the show develop behind the scenes, bringing together a mix of skilled comedic actors from across Lighthouse’s summer season, he said so far it’s been a bit of a tougher sell to the general public.
The common hurdle he’s faced has been the perception that the show is aimed at children. Not the case at all, noted Ritschel, describing the show, in essence, as, “How would a comedy sketch team do Jack and the Beanstalk?”
Show director Jonathan Ellul elaborated, characterizing the upcoming production as, “Imagine everything you love about the Muppet show, the Gong Show, and Buggs Bunny and you’re getting closer to what this show is going to be like! And the audience is as busy as the actors on stage cheering the good guys, and heckling the villain, and singing along.”
Ritschel added, “It’s a fairytale for adults. The kids can come too. Kids can always come to a panto.… The actors are using Jack and the Beanstalk as a loose storyline to follow and to mine for laughs.”
For those needing further explanation, picture the popular animated film series Shrek, which similarly takes familiar fairytale characters and then applies a Saturday Night Live style comedy approach as it skewers its source material.
“It’s just so good,” said Ritschel. “I really want people to see this show.”
Both Ellul and Ritschel know they have their work cut out for them, but they are looking ahead and excited about building the panto into a new beloved local tradition for families in the area.
“My wish is that after the show people will talk about it and think, ‘next year we’ll bring the grandparents too’, or ‘my sisters’ family will love this, let’s all go together next year’,” said Ellul.
Ritschel added, “We just need those people that come to have a good laugh and spread the word. What more can we ask for? When the team finally came together, we felt super confident that we may not have the biggest audiences because no one knows what the heck we’re doing, but the people that do come are about to have their heads blown off.”
While hopeful that this year’s panto comes out of the gate hot, Ritschel and his team have the patience to let their baby grow.
“The next couple of years will be the education years,” said Ritschel. “Three years from now you won’t be able to get a ticket to the panto. In the UK, they sell their pantos out eight months in advance.”
Ellul called the creative process a “different sort of animal” than a regular production.
“This script was written for the actors who were cast in the roles. Ken MacDougall has worked with most of the cast and knows their voices and humour, and he has written the script with those actors in mind,” explained Ellul. “Then when we go into the process of rehearsing and putting it on its feet, the actors improvise and riff on what was already written. You wouldn’t do that in a scripted play. Here, that’s what it’s all about!”
Ritschel praised the skilled cast: “In the summer, we expect the actors to be word-perfect to the script, but here, there’s a lot of improv. They’ll do the storyline, but if something happens, if the audience reacts a certain way, the actors are 100% prepared to go off-script. They almost always do.”
Ellul added, “The cast is a group of very smart and funny people. I have worked with all of them before, but this is the first time most of them have worked together. Their inventive approach and willingness to play has created a tight ensemble already!”
He encouraged the younger crowd to wear costumes to the shows, noting, “If you are the sort of person who likes to wear sparkly dresses, and fairy wings, and rainbow unicorns? This is the show to dress up in those costumes for! We have a princess and fairy who would love to see young people dressed up! We even love seeing ninja-turtles and Hogwarts costumes! This is the place to wear those awesome threads! All you need to do is show up, and we will make it worth your while! We can’t wait to see you!”
Ritschel concluded, “It’s comedy for the whole family. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing grandparents, parents, and kids, the whole generational span of a family laughing together. I don’t know how much more powerful that can be, especially in today’s day and age where we all need a laugh, and we need holiday cheer.”
For more information on Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto or to purchase tickets, visit lighthousetheatre.com or call their box office at 519-583-2221.
After studying journalism at Humber College, Mike Renzella desired to write professionally but found himself working in technical fields for many years. Beginning in 2019 as a freelancer, he joined the team full-time later that year. Since then, Mike has won several awards for his articles thanks to his commitment to presenting an unbiased, honest look at the important news and events shaping our community.