Dancing Sky Theatre’s latest production, Jack and the End of the World, is a welcome return to the Christmas pantos that have been a staple at the theatre in Meacham. After a three year absence, James O’Shea has returned to reprise his role as the spritely Widow Spriggins. Along with puppeteer Crispi Lord, director Angus Ferguson and a cast of performers who never fail to delight, it’s a reunion for cast and audience alike.
The idea for the original panto at Dancing Sky was born 17 years ago after O’Shea returned to Canada from overseas.
“I had just come back from Ireland where everyone went to the panto at Christmas,” explains O’Shea. “Everybody would go, it was just such an institution. I was talking to Angus who grew up in England, and it was very similar there - the panto was an institution. So we put our heads together and said if we could do something like it and put our own twist.”
The genesis was the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, transplanted on the rural prairies with a host of character types that everyone would recognize from their rural Saskatchewan upbringings.
The time was ripe, O’Shea says, to see a post-pandemic revival of the beloved Christmas show and it addresses the collective experience of the past few years.
“If we don’t seize the moment, who knows what the future is going to bring, So we wrote the show and got the music, and I think it’s one of the very best productions - people will not be disappointed. You’re going to have a great time.”
Perennial favourites Ed and Ned, the cantankerous, world-weary puppet duo, are back providing their earthbound commentary. O’Shea laughs that while he has aged, the puppets haven’t, so they provide a kind of grounding that’s both familiar and always hilarious. Actors like Blaine Hart, who plays the omnipresent villain Monte St. Orange, shift from role to role, creating the musical score and even all the sound effects.
In Jack and the End of the World, director Angus Ferguson introduces the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse in a wry and hilarious retrospective of the past few years.
“We’ve got plagues, we’ve got famine, all in the goofiest play you’ve ever seen,” Ferguson says. “It’s time for a good laugh and a laugh at what we’ve been through.”
The magic of the panto, Ferguson maintains, is its universal appeal and its ability to absorb the audience members into its world.
“The joy of the panto is that it’s something the whole family does together. It’s good for six or seven year olds, for their parents, for their grandparents. There’s lots of interaction - panto audiences are never quiet. People are encouraged to boo the bad guys and cheer the heroes and sing along with the songs.”
The songs are always an integral part of any Christmas panto performance, and this year’s talented five member cast leans into some great original tunes
“We write the songs collectively, but we are kind of led by the amazing Blaine Hart. Everybody plays a myriad of instruments. We’ve got ukuleles, we’ve got banjos, clarinets, recorders. That’s part of the fun for us - we’ve written six original songs for the play.”
As in years past, discriminating diners can partake in chef inspired meals prior to some performances, but Angus says that reservations can sell out quickly, so its important to book soon. Meals are available on Friday and Saturday evenings, and prior to the Saturday and Sunday matinee performances.
Ferguson and the troupe send a big shout out to Humboldt and area, who have always been stalwart supporters of Dancing Sky Theatre and its performances.
“We are the original rural theatre in Saskatchewan, so it’s really great to bring live theatre to people from around the area. Humboldt has been very loyal - we get a lot of people out from the area, so a big thank you.”
The shows run from December 2-18 inclusive. For more details on tickets and performance times, head to dancingskytheatre.com.
Enjoy the full interviews with James and Angus, and enjoy a sneak peek gallery.