Deep in the wilds of Stanley Park, there sits a gingerbread house with buck-a-slice pizza shingles, La Casa Gelato air-conditioning and samosa doorknobs.
Inside the house lives an oddly adorable witch – and when she encounters a young brother and sister lost in the woods, she decides they look good enough to eat.
Packed with hilarious references about everything from West Coast foodie culture to SkyTrain issues, Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto is far from a traditional retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale – and has a decidedly local flavour, courtesy of a script by favourite local funnyman Charles Demers and music by beloved East Van artist Veda Hille.
"It tells the story of a fairy tale that we all know, so it has that familiarity to it, and a timelessness," director Stephen Drover says. "But then it's full of local content and jokes about local businesses. It's very much of East Vancouver, and of Vancouver, so it feels like a homemade gift. It feels like it's written for us."
Now entering its third year, the East Van Panto has fast become a holiday tradition – not only for East Siders, but for theatre lovers from across the city.
Theatre Replacement founders Maiko Yamamoto and James Long got the idea for the panto when they and their friends began having kids, and wanted to create a homespun, family-friendly event that would bring the community together over the holidays.
Now to fill demand, the show has been expanded to an extra week, and runs the entire month of December.
According to Mr. Drover, part of the appeal is that the show has all the ingredients of a traditional panto – lots of music, topical references, saucy humour, cross dressing, goofy gags and plenty of audience participation – but it also folds in distinctly modern references, from Lady Gaga to commercial jingles to the theme from The Incredible Hulk. He also describes Mr. Demers's script as "incredibly irreverent and really, really funny."
And while the show has almost nothing to do with Christmas, Mr. Drover says it will definitely get people in the spirit.
"One of the reasons I love panto is that none of these stories are about Christmas. Santa doesn't make an appearance; there are no reindeer," he says. "But it totally sums up the spirit of Christmas – just being here together, being warm and being thankful for each other."
Hansel and Gretel: An East Van Panto is at the York Theatre until Jan. 3 (thecultch.com).