But we all know - don't we? - that the original panto stories are the themes for an awful lot of literature - genre and literary. The wicked stepmother, the abandoned child, the quest... in fact, pantomime is in general done a disservice by popular opinion, which dismisses it as fluff, and rather tacky fluff, at that. My take is rather different. One of the great truths of pantomime is that Good MUST triumph over Evil. These days, the baddy gets off rather more lightly than in the past, but they are still vanquished. Children absorb this truth along with their ice creams at the interval, and, as it is frequently the first live theatre to which children are exposed, it must be done well. Admittedly, they are more used to small screen watching these days, something made clear to me several years ago when a little voice in the auditorium piped up "Can you press pause, Mummy?" Caused a riot. But, year after year, children go to the pantomime and are uproarious in their appreciation.
So, they are a joy to write, perform in and direct, even though directing a full scale panto in a modern theatre is more than a full scale job. And they are a great discipline to master if you are intending to become a novelist. When I began writing them it was because I had been acting in them and directing them for some time, and I decided I wanted to use my own scripts, something most Panto Production companies do. I had no idea I was going to become a novelist. Jolly good training for dialogue, though, writing for the stage.
So there we are. And there's another reason theatre companies put on pantomimes. Here's how the great David Garrick put it at Drury Lane in 1750:
"But if an empty house, the actor's curse,
Shews us our Lears and Hamlets lose their force,
Unwilling, we must change the noble scene,
And, in our turn, present you Harlequin...
If want comes in, importance must retreat;
Our first great ruling passion - is to eat."
Which is why I'm up there at the top of the post with a green face (which never came out of the bedclothes), and, of course, why the very author of those Lears and Hamlets wrote so many of them. Happy anniversary Mr Shakespeare.
Lastly, although she didn't write them, she was the essence of good comedy, and what is pantomime but comedy? Not always good, admittedly, but comedy, nonetheless. So thank you and goodbye, Victoria Wood. I saw you live three times. You only saw me once, but I aren't 'arf proud of that.