Saturday, January 07, 2012

In Praise of Pantomimes

"It's behind you!" "Oh no it isn't!" "Oh yes it is!"

Taking the kids to the panto is an essential part of Christmas for many in the British Isles.

We take it for granted - - and yet, it's a glorious and strangely British art form, dating back years - centuries, even.

People who say they don't like panto have often seen what are - for me - the worst kind: the ones which lazily star some so-called "celebrity" from a reality TV show. Just having the "celebrity" there may, perhaps, pull in the crowds - - but that doesn't mean that they can do the job on stage. Often they stand there like a fish out of water, because they don't have any of the necessary skills.

I'm always very surprised when people don't apparently understand that pantomime requires a huge spread of different skills, all to a very high level. Stick in some minor celebrity and nine times out of ten they'll be a disaster on stage and the rest of the cast will have to "save" them.

The best pantomimes, unquestionably, are the ones which don't have star names, but instead have actors who have the skills and talent needed.

You probably won't have heard of Berwick Kaler unless you live in York - -but he has written, directed and played the Dame in York Theatre Royal's pantomime since - - well, probably since the days of Dick Turpin. He's fantastic at it. Today I saw another superb Dame - - Dominic Goodwin, at the wonderful Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire. Funny, inventive, commanding, gloriously naughty and a shameless flirt with a poor man called Michael who had foolishly sat on the front row.

In case you've never seen a panto (and if not, oh, I pity you!) the Dame is a man dressed as a woman, with superb audience-in-the-palm-of-his-hand skills and great comedy ability, plus superb improvisational skills, the ability to interact with any audience and the ability to cope with just about anything that happens. Oh yes, and he needs to be able to sing and dance too. That's all.

There's also the Principal Boy - - played by a girl, with generally lots of thigh for the audience to admire - - and the Principal Girl, who can often be a bit soppy. In today's glorious Adventures of Sinbad, she wasn't though - - she was a terrific acrobat who was flung all over the stage as the baddie tried to steal her away. Oh yes, and she could sing and dance too.

In fact, all the cast could sing and dance as well as act, and most played instruments, such as the superb Jill Myers as the Princess's mother, who plays the trumpet.

And there were the traditional panto routines - - three people singing a song on a bench, and the baddie keeps stealing one away, in spite of the audience's best shouts to stop this happening. I saw this same routine at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax, last week, with our excellent Ann Micklethwaite (from the agency I work for, Direct Personal Management) as So-Shy in Aladdin. I love it when these traditional routines are reworked and reinvented in different shows.

I love the props and special effects, too - - some are expensive (such as the huge elephant puppet in the Halifax panto) and some are just brilliantly inventive. Today, in Richmond, we found ourselves on the Island of Dunnadoodoo (oh yes we did!) and we sorted out the baddie by throwing bananas at him. Everyone in the audience threw at least one. If you've never hurled a banana at a baddie, you just won't know how much fun it can be.

A thousand bananas have been involved during the run of the show, all knitted from yellow wool by the good folks of Richmond and surrounding areas. Wonderful! Hurrah for pantomimes!


Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Let me get this straight. You throw knitted bananas at a bad man who keeps stealing a person from a trio while men play dames and women play boys and it's all very "traditional"? I think the nearest thing we have to that must be midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show where people bring umbrellas.

We just go to a concert in an auditorium. Very vanilla by comparison.

11:35 pm  
Blogger Debby said...

What a fabulous picture you painted. I wish I'd gone to a panto when I was there. I've missed my chance and we don't have anything like that here. Loved hearing about it!

1:32 am  
Blogger Helsie said...

Daphne, I'm afraid I thnk you have to be British to appreciate pantomines. I've been to the odd one here - and I'm the first to admit they were most likely very bad examples - but they are definitely not my thing. Do you think we might appreciate them more here if it wasn't a Christmas and therefore Summer thing?... but then we don't really get Punch and Judy shows either.
Oh well vive la difference.

4:24 am  
Blogger Silverback said...

Not sure what makes me the most seeing Dominic in the panto or the Richmond fish and chips.
Put me down for both next Christmas time.

5:21 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

Bob - well you're not far off - I've always thought that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a kind of cinematic version of panto!
Debby - yes, I think you'd have loved yesterday's show.
Helsie - I think Punch and Judy DOES seem rather outdated now but panto is alive and well. I wish you could have seen some of the pantos I've seen - I bet you'd enjoy them.
Silverback - - Most definitely and Hurrah!

9:13 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Whoa, Ian, is this an early heads-up that you're not returning to the colonies next fall but will be staying at home in the northern climes in God-knows-what-kind-of weather to risk your health and well-being and give your nether parts time to heal from all that flatland bike riding?

6:58 pm  
Blogger Daphne2 said...

Hi Daphne
I'm a bit of an expert this year having seen the same pantomine about a dozen times - I do casual hours at the Carriageworks (for those who don't know it's in Leeds)I was not looking forward to the panto season because the last few I saw were a bit smutty, but I've become a big fan. The cast were brilliant and the show (Beauty and the Beast) was great. There were some minor stars in the cast but they got stuck in, and best of all the audiences loved it.

9:42 pm  
Blogger Katherine said...

When I was 11 and taken to England by my ex-pat parents, we went to a London pantomime, so I'm so pleased to know what you are talking about. It is such a wonderful institution!
It was entitled 'Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood' and, if my memory serves me right, also involved Aladdin, and a Dame, and a song-sheet, flying actors (swooping on ropes), two lost children and a baddie. Such fun. Occasionally someone tries to put one on in NZ, but Kiwi audiences don't participate well, unfortunately, and so it usually flops.

8:26 am  
Anonymous Pantomime Entertainment said...

Pantomimes have always been a good part of the British culture and they are surely great forms of entertainment.

6:33 am  

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