Down an East Van rabbit hole at the Panto

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East Van Panto: Alice In Wonderland | Theatre Replacement | The Cultch | York Theatre and online | November 24, 2021 – January 2, 2022

The evil Queen of Hearts, Jess Cheetos, owns a “super giant evil online store” that threatens to put East Van shops out of business, the White Rabbit sells cell phones, the Cheshire Cat (Amanda Sum) is a busker, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb are transit police officers, and the Mad Hatter presides over a leftist tea party on Commercial Drive. It’s Alice in Wonderland like you’ve never seen it before, full of local East Van references and political commentary.

After Alice (Dawn Petten) drinks a special concoction from Booster Juice and rides the Skytrain, she ends up in Grandview-Woodlands Wonderland where she meets a host of colourful characters as she tries to track down the White Rabbit (Mark Chavez) to get herself a cell phone—something she thinks kids should be allowed to have.

The wise caterpillar isn’t much help to Alice as he runs a cannabis store and has no coherent advice. Meanwhile, the evil queen (Ghazal Azarbad) continues to threaten local businesses and deploy her “cookies” to steal data.

Even Greta Thunberg makes an appearance to tell us that adults are idiots. This theme of children’s empowerment runs throughout, with Alice finding her way and defeating the evil queen. As we listened to recorded voices and all the kids in the crowd chant “I’m a kid and I can,” the kids in the show came on stage wearing orange Every Child Matters t-shirts. While it’s an important message and a nice sentiment to finish the show on, the ending felt a bit tagged on and separate from the action of the story itself.

Of course, the highlight of the Panto is hearing all the hilariously rewritten pop songs. One of this year’s best is “Wannabe,” in which the characters explain what they want, what they really, really want: “to take down the patriarchy,” “to right the wrongs of colonialism,” and “to burn down capitalism.” Alice also gave an impressive performance of a rewritten “Let it Go.”  

Full of hilarious songs, impressive comedic performances, political humour, and interactive fun, the Panto is once again a hit for the whole family.

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