Britons are strange. We all know that. They like to eat weird things like jaffa cakes. They are embarrassed about showing affection to all but dogs and horses. And they won't complain when their restaurant meals are appalling.
But they're also charming and quaint, from time to time, and one of their charming and quaint traditions in the Christmas pantomime. Tim & I went to a pantomime when in Guernsey. It was my first experience of this ... art form, and it was fascinating.
The pantomime in question was Aladdin, although you mightn't have recognised the story. It certainly wasn't Disney's take on it, nor did it step straight from the pages of One Thousand and One Nights. Once a story gets the pantomime treatment it's an entirely new thing.
The conventions of pantomime are rather lovely: take a story - usually a fairytale - add music, dance, slapstick and comedy, then sprinkle it liberally with the modern world. And don't forget the vital special ingredients.
Crossdressing - there is always a "Panto Dame" (usually the hero's mother) who is played by a man - Aladdin's Panto Dame is the Widow Twankey. And the main boy's role is played by a girl, who'll wear tight-fitting clothing so there's no question about her sex. Thus in this panto, the role of Aladdin was played by a woman.
Innuendo - dirty jokes supposedly over the heads of the children in the audience. Not too sure that's the case these days, but there were several lovely pieces of innuendo in this panto, most to do with Twankey's bits.
Audience Participation - possibly the most important part of a pantomime. The audience is encouraged to boo and hiss the villain, shout "He's behind you!" when the villain is hunting the hero and "Oh no it is/isn't!" at the appropriate juncture. The cast will often ask questions of the audience, expecting a reply. Somewhere near the end of the performance there'll be a "Community" song, with the audience joining in. And children will often come up on stage for that song to perform the actions. We had The Hokey Tokey (well, "The Manky Twankey" actually) and seriously, Brits do that so strangely! Completely different from the NZ version. (They call it "The Hokey Cokey" as well. Nutters.) The little children were adorable.
The Panto Animal - usually with two people inside, so most often a horse or camel. We had two panto animals: an elephant (Welephant), and a beautifully made Chinese Dragon. The costume makers were excellent.
The Celebrity Star - Tim thought this was a modern convention, but it actually dates back to the late 19th century, according to Wikipedia. This performance didn't have a celebrity, but most will have someone from a soap, or a sports star, or even occasionally someone of the calibre of Sir Ian McKellen. Some people have become regular panto contributors, people like John Barrowman, Chris Biggins, and Ray Meagher.
I really enjoyed this experience. Initially, I didn't join in because it was so very strange to be shouting during a stage performance, but it was fun once I did join in! It was an amateur show (really, the best pantomime experiences should be, so I am told) so there were bits that were a little off, but a few of the actors were really good, and the dancing was fun. Highlight would have to be a dance with skeletons: the dance troupe wore black suits with neon skeleton shapes, and the dance they did was really cool.
All in all it was loads of fun, and you really should try to watch one when you can. Sadly, I have no photos because they were verboten. Alas.
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