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All the world’s a panto

September 17, 2019

I may have written about this before. That’s the great thing about getting older: not only can you not remember, but you just don’t care.

Anyway… Although I honestly can’t remember which one it was, I can still vividly remember the first time I went to the Old Vic with my mum to see a panto. It was absolute magic. And I can confidently state that it was the beginning of a life-long love of the theatre. (Some time later, my class was taken to a matinee performance of the Engelbert Humperdinck (no, not that one) opera Hansel and Gretel and that began a life-long love of the opera. Well, other than Wagner.)

For most British kids – and many in the, for want of a better word, “colonies” (ouch! Sorry about that) – pantos are their first experience of the theatre. And I know, like me, they find it magical.

I confess, by the time I was in my late teens I’d begun to dismiss pantos as naff. That said, it didn’t, in my twenties, stop me taking my mum back to the Old Vic for a Christmas treat. That year it was Wind in the Willows and we both had a rollicking good time booing the villain and yelling at the actors.

When I came back here in 2008 I was delighted to discover the local theatre group had introduced pantos into their repertoire. When Mike and I went to see Rumpelstiltskin it was his first experience of this peculiarly British art form and he was somewhat taken aback the first time I started shouting “Behind you!” at an actor on the stage. He asked what I thought I was doing. I pointed out that I wasn’t alone. Pantos positively encouraged audience participation.

We missed the 2009 panto, but were back for Scrooge in 2010. Mike needed absolutely no prompting by then. There was talk of trying to get his granddaughters over for the following year’s show.

Sadly, that was the last panto Mike saw. He died suddenly of a massive heart attack in March 2011.

That September I saw an ad in the local paper for auditions for the 2011 panto, The Pied Piper. My initial reaction was a sigh. I really wasn’t sure I could face going to that year’s panto on my own. I turned the page. Then I turned it back, looked at the ad again. Maybe I should go to the auditions. I had, after all, done some acting in school and had thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps I could be cast in a small role or, failing that, offer myself up in some backstage capacity. It would get me out of the house and out of my head, with the added bonus of meeting more people on the island.

panto rolesAs it happened, I did get a small role. I was cast as Rat 2. My four lines totalling less than twenty words didn’t even merit naming the character. When I explained my lack of name to the mayor (played by a woman who’s now a very dear friend), she decided I really did need a name, so she dubbed me Rattatwoey. (Ratatouille, geddit? Oh, well, never mind.)

I did actually love being back on stage and pretty much leapt at an invitation to audition for a role in one of the one-act plays performed that spring. Somehow this led  to me taking on the female role in The Housekeeper, a full length play performed at the 2012 theatre festival. (Actually, I know exactly how it led to it: no one else would do it. I still can’t figure out how I learnt all those lines.)

Back in the 2012 panto as Sargent Ping (or was it Pong?) in Aladdin.

Another one-act play, a staged reading of Under Milk Wood, the summer off and then it was time to start rehearsing my role as Auntie Dilbit in the 2013 panto. (Anti-dilbit – geddit? Oh, honestly.)

I just loved being in pantos.

And then, in July 2014, I was sitting on the deck of the pub, sipping a glass of wine and admiring the view when my friend the mayor said, “You do realise you’re going to have to direct the panto this year, don’t you?” I looked over my shoulder to see who she was talking to. Oops. No one. Or rather someone: me. “Huh?” I said. She looked at me and said: “Well, who else is there?” Gulp. No one.

Okay, I thought when I got home, if I’m directing the panto, it’s going to have to be something a bit more interesting than Puss in Bloody Boots. I started combing the numerous UK websites that specialise in pantomime scripts. Nope, nope, nope. Eventually I ended up on the Spotlight website where, at the end of a very long alphabetical list, I found Will Shakespeare The Panto!  by Robin Bailes. Now that sounded interesting. As indeed it was. And it had only just been published. If I’d been looking for scripts a month earlier it would not have been there.

And so we staged the world premiere of Will Shakespeare The Panto!

Sounder review

Going back to my original point (you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?), pantos are the first exposure many children have to theatre. As I said in my programme notes: “My first exposure to Shakespeare was at the hands of a sadly uninspiring English teacher, who should never have been allowed within a yard of the Bard. I know I’m not alone in this, which is one of the great bonuses of this script. How awesome to start our youngsters off loving the idea of Shakespeare!

Bit of a twofer that.


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