What the Dickens?

The Peninsula Players bring A Christmas Carol: the Panto to Sidney's Mary Winspear Centre this month.

Tony Garnett holds his ears while rehearsing the role of Scrooge Sunday night.

When he first arrived on the local theatre scene, Gerald Schieven hadn’t ever played a women before.

That would change almost immediately after arriving in this province after changing jobs. An astronomer by trade, Schieven was heavily involved in community theatre in Hawaii. One of the first things he did when coming to work in B.C. in 2008, was to look for a similar troupe of actors. He’s been involved with the Players ever since — acting and directing.

These days, he’s the director of The Peninsula Players’ upcoming show: A Christmas Carol, The Panto.

“When I first came here, I saw an ad for a pantomime, directed by Dick Mills,” Schieven said. “I got the role of the Dame and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Classic pantomime, he explained, involves taking a piece of work — in this case Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — and adapting it as a farce. Typically, a man will play a female lead (it’s not Schieven this time) and the production will be fraught with puns and bad jokes featuring as much local content as possible.

Schieven added the band for the show, What the Dickens, has even been tasked with re-writing music from the play to fit local, provincial and national themes. Schieven said audiences can expect to hear references to Justin Bieber and Stephen Harper, to name a few.

“A panto is a traditional British, family show, with lots of interaction between the cast and audiences.

“People are encouraged to boo Scrooge and cheer on the chorus and applaud when Dickens himself (played by Matt Watson) appears.

A Christmas Carol: the Panto, was written by Adrian Barrade. It includes music the audience will be encouraged to sing along to.

“While it includes all of the elements of a pantomime, the author stays faithful to the original Dickens story.”

In normal pantomimes, however, the villain doesn’t change as drastically as Scrooge does in the story. That means, Schieven said, the audience could very well change those boos into cheers.

Schieven said his challenge so far has been working with a large cast of around 26 actors, including children and even a puppet or two.

“The cast ranges from no experience whatsoever to those who have plenty of it,” said the director. “But we’re coming together and having a lot of fun.”

Sets and costumes will represent the period, Schieven said, but also add hints of modern day themes. Overall, it’ll be minimalist while evoking the period in which Dickens set A Christmas Carol. Schieven said the production is not about big sets — it’s about the gags, slapstick and audience participation.

“People are just going to have a lot of fun,” he said.

The Dame, or Big Mama as Schieven called the role, is being performed by Allan Souliere. Tiny Tim will be played by Travis Harfield and Bob Cratchit will be played by Chris Bocking.

The Peninsula Players kick off the seasonal performances Dec. 12 to 14 at the Berwick Theatre in Saanich.

They return to their new digs at the Mary Winspear Centre for six shows at the Charlie White Theatre.

A Christmas Carol: the Panto runs Dec. 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m. Dec.  21 at 2 p.m. Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 27 and 28 at 2 p.m.

Tickets for the Sidney shows are available at that Mary Winspear Centre at 250656-0275 or online at tickets.marywinspear.ca, or www.berwickretirement.com/royal-oak for the Saanich performances.

For details about the Peninsula Players, visit their website at www.thepeninsulaplayers.ca.