‘Tis the season…


…to shout at fat men in dresses, to sing along with a bumbling fool, to be raucous in public and even to be encouraged to show disdain.  It is, in short, panto season.  Pantomime is a bizarre tradition, both terribly British and terribly not.  Fiends from other nations tend to be confused at best, and disturbed at worst, by a trip to the pantomime.  Familiar stories have strange elements added to them, random characters are played by people of the wrong gender who don’t even try to persuade you otherwise, there are calls and responses which it seems everyone knows and there is, in general, rowdy behaviour in public.  Those in charge even chastise you if you’re not raucous enough!  Compare this to the stereotypical dweller on this beautiful collection of islands – quiet, reserved with a stiff upper lip and a frown never far from the lips.  Once a year, around Christmas time, all that pent up emotion comes flooding out, and a pantomime audience is born.

I’m fairly sure that in my younger days, pantomimes began on Boxing Day and continued into January, but they have been going on all month, and perhaps even before that.  During December this year I have (so far, let’s not rule out another visit) seen three pantos, all very different, but all enjoyable.  The key, I find, is just to let go and join in with as much joyful abandon as you can muster.  The more you participate in the “it’s behind you”s and the “oh no it’s not”s, the more fun you have.

First was a production of Aladdin in a village hall in Birchington.  I caught this one as one of my fellow library people was playing Aladdin, and did a jolly good job too.  The ladies were, as a rule, much better than the men involved, with a particularly memorable pair of Chinese policemen and a magnificently haughty Empress of China providing much amusement, while the Princess Noodle provided some beautiful musical moments.  There was, occasionally, additional comedy to be found in the little details that had been overlooked.  I particularly enjoyed the all-important laundry scene, where a stage full of people all watched the washing machine drum rotate at different speeds and, at one point, in different directions.

Next was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury.  Last year, I wrote about how much I’d enjoyed Stephen Mulhern’s performance in Aladdin, and he was back, playing the comic relief Muddles (though most of the cast could have been classified as comic relief).  The production was not quite as much fun as last year’s but was still highly enjoyable from the moment the Wicked Queen appeared to the unbelievably cheesy finale.  Every element was well done, from set and lighting to choreography, with plenty of well-timed silliness to keep everyone laughing (including, from time to time, members of the cast).

Finally, Peter Pan in Hastings, which I caught as a good friend of mine is the musical director.  The production starred Jon Lee (formerly of S Club 7 and also an excellent, seriously excellent, Marius in Les Miserables), who was a joy as the boy who never grew up, particularly in his songs ‘My Shadow and Me’ and ‘Do You Believe in Fairies?’.  The children were, as children often are, a mixed bunch and there were some interesting moments with the set, but once again I had a great time.  I particularly enjoyed the audience singalong, which was a tongue twister, but was a little easier for me as I’ve been rehearsing ‘I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General’ for the last few months.  I wasn’t too disturbed by the crocodile, but I suspect that had I been in the stalls rather than the circle, I would have been grabbing the nearest person for protection.

As an audience member, my panto season is now over.  However, that doesn’t mean that I am leaving audience participation behind me for another year, as I will be taking part on the other side of the footlights in January.  I shall be appearing in a puff of smoke as the Genie in Aladdin at the Winter Gardens in Margate.  The production stars Ben Mills (X-Factor finalist) as Aladdin and comedian/actor Mark Arden as the evil Abanazar and should be quite excellent!  The members of the cast that I know are people who can be trusted to give great performances, as well.  I will essentially live this production for three weeks, and will be the most intensive work I’ve ever done on a show.  It won’t be the first time I’ve worked with professionals, but it will be the first time I’ve done so in a principal role, rather than in the ensemble.  I’m busily learning my lines and music, and look forward to learning the blocking and, more scarily, the choreography in the New Year.

If you haven’t yet made it to a pantomime this year, I encourage you to do so.  And if you’re within striking distance of Margate between the 16th and 25th January, why not catch the Singing Librarian in action at the Winter Gardens?

  1. >> I particularly enjoyed the all-important laundry scene, where a stage full of people all watched the washing machine drum rotate at different speeds and, at one point, in different directions.

    Heh heh heh.

    And if only Margate wasn’t so far away… I adore pantomime, as you know.

    Keep us posted.

    A/B

  2. Oh, I shall keep you posted! If I can’t get at least one ‘Rehearsals are odd’ post out of the experience, I shall be terribly disappointed.

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