Ok, this post is mainly targeted at America. Because, honestly, for better or worse, we’ve been taking on your holidays and events – Halloween, Black Friday – I think it’s time we give something to you. You’ve managed to adopt St Patrick’s Day pretty well and so I suggest, you may want to consider jumping on the bandwagon of the tradition of the pantomime.
Tempted to consider an evening of family fun that involves cross-dressing, innuendo and more chiffon that you could throw at a gypsy wedding*? Then come with me for the essential guide to the British pantomime.
*Dubious jokes are all part of the ‘fun’, so if you’re easily offended, maybe best to look away now.
1) A cast of celebrity has-beens and never-was.
Nothing says ‘panto’ more than someone considered a family favourite in the 1970s/80s as the big star. As most of those in the UK are now under investigation by Operation Yewtree it’s also ok to resort to people knocked out in the early stages of a reality TV series. Make sure their ‘fame’ is highlighted on the publicity poster, because it’s unlikely you’ll recognise them by name if they were booted out of The X Factor in week 5 three years ago and certainly not by their publicity shot if said celeb hasn’t featured on TV for 30 years.
Alcohol may, in the long run, have seemed to be the better option when it turns out your ‘star’ can’t handle a rhyming couplet. Or remember the script. Or has drunk all the alcohol themselves.
2) Don’t expect the plotline to be anything more than a passing reference to the fairy story of the title.
The audience must largely sit wondering what’s happened to the plot as set pieces are shoe-horned in and the actual story is largely forgotten. Pieces that include a completely unrelated sketch of pure slapstick and tongue-in-cheek filth (this year our local panto this revolved around erect sausage gags) sitting on a bench in the woods whilst bothered by ‘ghosties and ghoulies’ (‘But I don’t want to be caught by the ghosties.’ ‘Well, I don’t want to be caught by the…’) and dragging small-ish kids onto the stage to sing off-key versions of songs they’ve never heard.
And, yes, we the audience pay for this.
If the title character doesn’t actually appear all that much, it’s not a problem. Because…
3) There’s nothing like a dame.
Insipid princess? Not a problem. The only notable thing about the prince is that he is actually a she in hot pants? Don’t worry about it. Big celebrity star too pissed to deliver his lines correctly? No worries.
Because the only scenes worth it are the ones featuring the Dame who must – must – be played by a middle-aged man whose camper than a weekend with Four Poofs and a Piano.
Ostentatious costumes, all the best gags (well, he did write the script himself) and minor sexual harassment of whichever bloke is sat in seat A3, the audience love her (apart from maybe the bloke sat in seat A3).
4) Evil people and fairies must speak only in rhyming couplets.
5) Everyone must wear so much synthetic material that
6) Enforced audience participation.
‘You know, kids, if your parents don’t join in, it means they don’t love you.’
And thus English reserve is left at the door.
Ok, America. The chances are you will leave the performance befuddled and confused, clutching random bits of plastic tut and feeling both elated at having just spent a shedload of money and slightly assaulted. A bit like Black Friday then really.