Emily Lewis, 12, smiles as she waits for her call during rehearsal for ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ the annual Christmas pantomime from the Peninsula Players. (Kristyn Anthony/News staff)

‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ make for Peninsula Christmas pantomime

Peninsula Players production runs Dec. 21-28 at the Mary Winspear Centre

Allan Haynes isn’t sure exactly when pantomimes became synonymous with the Christmas season, but the director of the latest stage production from the Peninsula Players says a good panto can still pack the seats with a theatre-going crowd.

This year, Haynes and his cast of 20 actors of all ages present Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves at the Mary Winspear Centre from Dec. 21 until Dec. 28.

“I don’t think you’re ever too old for pantomimes,” Haynes says, perched in one of the 300 or so seats in the Charlie White Theatre during a recent rehearsal. “It’s hardly Shakespeare,” he says, chuckling, “but they’re fun.”

The panto is one of the few productions the Players put on throughout the year with parts for younger actors – an aspect Haynes relishes as he has watched a handful of stars emerge.

Often loosely based on a fairy tale and full of quirky songs and choreographed dance, Haynes surmises it is both the familiarity and the casual feel of the show that keeps the audience returning year after year.

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“It’s all part of the fun,” he says. “They know to expect corny jokes – things that the adults will find a bit silly but the kids will roll with laughter.”

That said, Haynes points out it can be a bit of a misnomer that a pantomime is just for kids because a good one should have jokes for all ages.

“Humour is the single most important aspect of a pantomime,” says Haynes, who rewrote some of the script to include local references, also an aspect of a classic panto.

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Working behind the scenes as a producer and on stage in a supporting role, Tia Niedjalski says this year’s production is a family affair.

It was her two daughters – 10-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Maia – who encouraged Tia to audition for the annual Christmas panto a few years ago. The trio are now one of three families with generations of actors playing a host of roles in Ali Baba.

“It’s become a Christmas tradition for us to do the panto,” she says. “And, it’s a tradition for other people to come and watch it.”

And though local middle and secondary schools on the Peninsula have robust theatre programs, Tia says participating in a community theatre group helps younger actors gain confidence in a more professional-style setting. “Some people don’t really understand a pantomime, but it’s the interactiveness and silliness of it – it’s good family entertainment.”

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves runs Dec. 21, 22 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 23, 26 and 27 at 2 p.m. For tickets visit Tickets.MaryWinspear.ca.

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