Friday, 22 April 2016

It's Behind You!

When I wrote my introductory post, someone - Rae? - said they would like to hear more about the pantomimes. This came back to me the other day while I was sitting having my nails done (Shellac. Marvellous stuff) and a discussion began among the beauty operatives (!) about their favourite Disney films. One was saying that her daughter couldn't understand why people wanted to watch people being cruel to one another. Now, it's always been my understanding that children loved a bit of cruelty and a good ol' baddy to boo. What came out of the conversation, in which, of course I just HAD to join, was that all of these young women had no knowledge of the original stories. "Didn't you ever go to pantomimes?" I asked. "Well, yes," they said. "Well, they are nearer to the original stories than Disney is," I told them. They were bemused. Disney is obviously the oracle.

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.


  1. This was pure nostalgia for me ...... just the mention of the word 'pantomime'. As a child, it was my dear Aunt Frances's Christmas treat to my brother and me to go to the 'panto' (said in a very Welsh accent!) on the first Saturday after Christmas. We would have a box of Malteser's (how noisy they must have been!)to scoff as we watched. A choc ice was the treat in the interval. A couple of Christmas's ago I took my grandchildren to the pantomime, and goodness did they love it! Emily - four - loved the singing and the dancing. Alex - eight - got most of the double entrendres. And the upshot is ..... Emily has joined a young performers group and did her first show earlier this month. Pantomime will live on! Great post, Lesley.

  2. Lovely post from which I've learnt things both about you and about panto, Lesley. Thank you!

  3. Those green faces are magnificent, Lesley! I love pantomime for all the reasons you highlighted - but especially the fact that good triumphs over evil. Also great that pantomime manages to cater for all ages - something that as a member of the audience looks easy but I'm sure is a real skill for the writer to achieve. Thanks for sharing your experience. :-)