Panto frolics

Well, Aladdin at the Margate Winter Gardens is well under way, and the cast and crew are enjoying a day off, all hoping to recover enough energy and vocal strength to continue through the next week’s performances. It has been a lot of fun and a lot of stress, a general roller-coaster of emotions and activity. The audiences seem to be enjoying themselves, which is the aim of any pantomime (the genre should function as a theatrical ‘gateway drug’, getting kids hooked on theatre) and we have continued on, despite the inevitable technical hitches and a fainting Chinese policeman. We have thus far given five performances complete with everything from malfunctioning mangles to singing clouds, puffs of smoke to unexpected audience participation, all the ingredients of a fun panto.

I spend quite a bit of the show either sitting in my dressing room or pacing the corridors, and have discovered that the latter is inadvisable if the junior dancers are around – apparently either I or my make-up is (or am) terrifying in semi-darkness, causing them to jump, start or squeal. Some younger audience members also seem to find the Genie disturbing, though one young person did tell the Dame that his favourite bit of the panto was when I appeared – hearing about this cheered me up somewhat.

Many things about the show are a joy and it has not yet become routine for me. The cast are amazing, on stage and off, from Widow Twankey who can ad lib her/his way out of any sticky situation, to Aladdin, who has shown such openness and determination to learn new skills. Many of us have been on a steep learning curve and we are constantly on our toes. Some particular joys for me:

Dodging dancers. During some numbers, I provide off-stage backing vocals, and in one of these there is a dance break, where I must remember to clear a space for K, one of the incredibly talented senior dancers, to jog past as he exits and re-enters the scene. I have no idea whether he sees me smile and nod to him as he goes past, but I find the moment strangely reassuring, a sign that the show is going as it should.

Waiting for the pop. As is traditional, the Slave of the Ring and the Genie of the Lamp appear in a puff of smoke. There is a health and safety side to this, as any actor too close to the pyro which provides the smoke could easily be burned, so our mantra as we are about to enter is ‘wait for the pop’. On one occasion I got confused, or possibly over-excited, and failed to wait for the pyro to go pop, so I had no puff of smoke. Entirely my fault. Of course, I now get a significant look from the pyro-man every time I’m about to enter to remind me not to do it again.

Listening in. The show relay is a very handy thing, allowing actors in far-off dressing rooms to hear what’s going on and thus know when their scenes are approaching. During Aladdin, it has also been a source of amusement to me. Having seen the scenes so many times in rehearsal, I know how things are supposed to go, so it’s always interesting listening for deviations and wondering what’s gone wrong (or unexpectedly right) at any given moment. Hearing Widow Twankey ask one of the crew to remove a stray prop or the Chinese policewomen get confused about which one of them is which is almost as funny as seeing it unfold in front of me. More intriguing is trying to work out why someone says “oh, that was unexpected!” or similar. The thrill of live theatre is possibly never more evident than in panto when it seems absolutely anything can (and does) happen.

Freestlying. Actually, if we’re listing joys, that’s a lie. In choreographic terms, I don’t think there is any word that’s more scary than ‘freestyle’, at least to a non-dancer like myself. There are parts of the big finale that are freestyle, but I think most of us principals have settled ourselves into a routine for those moments, and do essentially the same ‘freestyle’ moves each time. Anyway, by the time we reach freestyle, I’m having so much fun that I can’t help but smile even if I have a blank and can’t think what to do.

Tired as I am, this has thus far been an amazing experience, quite unlike anything else I’ve done on stage thus far.  I have cried with laughter and cried with frustration.  I have invented a new key to sing in (though thankfully have not returned to it) and danced my socks off (if one who is barefoot can be said to dance their socks off).  I have met new people and got to know others better.  And I only have a week more of it to go.  I’ll be a little relieved when it’s over, but I know I’ll miss it.  It has been wonderful to have a licence to be utterly daft for a few weeks and the sound of the audience shouting “it’s behind you!”, even if they’re not actually shouting to me, is a sound to be treasured.

  1. 😀

  2. The performance we saw was very moving indeed 🙂 I felt the whole row of chairs shake from laughter.

  1. January 31st, 2010

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