Chris Jarvis couldn’t be happier to be spending his Christmas in Poole, on stage at Lighthouse starring in and directing Happy Ever After, the show he wrote in response to being unable to do panto this year.
Happy Ever After is a one-hour Christmas show featuring a host of familiar pantomime and children’s storybook characters from Jack and Genie to Humpty Dumpty and the Owl and the Pussycat who come together to help Cinderella get to her next ball.
“The story is told with the same texture as panto with comedy and songs, but it’s a fixed set and essentially a one-act play so the magic comes from the phenomenal skills of James Smith our lighting designer. His skill means the production values are high, but our ticket price makes us accessible to as many people as possible.
“We are acutely aware that people have had a rotten year and that coming back to a theatre to shout and scream and boo and hiss and have things thrown around might not be what they want at this time. So, we have lots of characters people will know, I’ll be dressed as Buttons, and we’ll tell the story of what happens to those characters after their panto story. We find out that with the exception of one or two problems everyone is living happy ever after.”
There’s a strong emphasis on Christmas in the show and some incredible special effects created with lighting, but with lots of in-jokes, corny puns and slapstick humour, as well as the familiar cast of characters, Happy Ever After is a show that brings the whole family together at a time when that hasn’t been as easy as it could be.
“It’s all about happiness, positivity and family and togetherness,” says Chris. “The thing is, pantomime has to feature certain elements and we have taken the view that physically they are not possible to do this year and remain safe. people can come to Happy Ever after and sit in their bubbles with plenty of space around them and be entertained by a Christmas show – we want people to be relaxed and comfortable enough to enjoy themselves, have a laugh and join in with Sleigh Bells and Frosty and a medley of Christmas songs.”
Chris wasn’t planning to do a pantomime this year, but when he found himself he developed the idea he had for a children’s show and created Happy Ever After.
“Lighthouse makes shows but they like to involve people from outside as well, which is where James and I came in. It has been a terrific learning experience – the conversations we’ve had about what’s possible in terms of lighting special effects have lasted for hours, writing the script has been relatively straightforward,” he explains with characteristic modesty.
“I have spoken with so people in my industry whose world has literally been wiped away by the pandemic – not only performers, but the crew, writers, people with production houses and venues, they are absolutely desperate. There’s no doubt that performers have a need to perform, it’s what keeps us going so to be able to do this show is a blessing. We’re able to offer a live show to share with the community and the people of Poole and beyond are able to support Lighthouse by buying a ticket that will help it keep going.”
Chris is well aware of the way Poole audiences come together to help in difficult times. In the wake of the terrible Boxing Day tsunami in 2005 he joined Brian in Pantomime Relief to raise money for the Red Cross Tsunami Earthquake Appeal with the stars of Beauty the Beast (Poole), Jack and the Beanstalk (Bournemouth) and Peter Pan (Southampton), performing shows at Lighthouse and Bournemouth Pavilion.
“We combined the panto companies and put on a revue that raised £25,000. We were meant to do one show at 10pm after the two panto performances, but due to a communication error (missing out the “pm”) we ended up doing another at 10am! Quite how we all got through four performances – because we still had the pantos to do – I really don’t know, but it was awesome to play a part and the audience support was absolutely incredible.
“And just like that show, whatever happens this year is going to make it a very special one that we’ll remember for years to come, the way people are coming together to make things happen. It’s good for our mental health and wellbeing and with Happy Ever After we’re starting something now that means we can look forward to coming back stronger than ever next year.”