Day 17 of the Advent Blogfest…
I must apologise for not posting yesterday. Christmas mayhem is threatening to overcome me here and, what with battling a nasty virus too, I am a little tired at present and thinking wistfully of my bed by 6pm! But I will try to write a quick post tonight, and am basing it on the annual Christmas pantomime and the Oxford Playhouse. This year, it’s Beauty and the Beast but with a pantomime, while you get a version of the real story, there is plenty that is added and missed out along the way.
I didn’t know this but, according to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the pantomime started life as a version of the Italian street theatre known as Commedia dell’arte, which found its way here in the 16th century. (You can read some excellent information about pantomimes and their history on the V&A’s page.) Pantomimes are usually based on popular children’s fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington, Aladdin, Mother Goose, etc, but there are certain necessary elements for it to become a pantomime. These include:
- slapstick comedy
- cross-gender dressing (typically there is a ‘dame’, played by a man with certain larger than life features)
- a very obviously and delightfully hammy ‘baddie’
- music and songs.
Today, I accompanied my school to their annual trip to the panto. There were over 180 of us, trooping through town, which was quite an experience in itself. What I hadn’t realized was that this morning’s show was fully booked by local schools, with most audience members being under the age of 11. And, boy, can they SCREAM! Considering all the health and safety rules there are, I am surprised there is no rule for sound! One of the cast members did say at one point ‘I pity you teachers’ after a particularly drawn-out session of ‘THEY’RE BEHIND YOU!!!!’.
The Oxford Playhouse panto is a real tradition in the city and is normally penned by Peter Duncan, previously of Blue Peter fame. There are plenty of jokes both for adults and children, dances to pop songs and lots of comedy. This year was no exception, although I felt something was missing and, thinking about it now, I reckon what it was, was a lack of a really bad baddie. There was a wicked witch, who had put a curse on the prince to turn him into the Beast, but this was represented by a red strobe light that flashed ominously on the audience when the witch was around. In previous years, there was always a very good, very vile villain, which the audience loved booing. I missed that this time as panto plays so well with the contrast between good and evil, even when it is done so comically. In fact, I think often the baddies are the most popular characters because they do it so well.
The children loved it. Having started off a little shy and quiet, by the second half, the noise was deafening as they jumped up and down and shouted and clapped and said ‘Ewwww’ as the princess and prince kissed. There were smiles all around and it was a fun morning out. I just prefer my pantos with a little more villainy. 😉