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Memories of pantos past

November 30, 2020

Facebook keeps throwing up memories from this time a number of years ago – pantos past.

As I’m sure I’ve written somewhere before, in September 2011, a few months after my partner Mike died of a heart attack, I decided to respond to an ad in the local paper for auditions for the annual panto. I needed something to get me out of the house and out of my head.

The panto that year was The Pied Piper and I was cast in the smallest role: Rat 2.

I had four or five lines which totalled probably no more than twenty words – such a small role that my character didn’t even merit a name.

Because it was such a small role and my time required in rehearsals so brief, I was the guinea pig for the makeup crew who were creating the look for all the rats.

Since then, every one of my autumns has been taken up with panto rehearsals.

In 2012 it was Aladdin, in which I played Sgt. Pong.

Or was it Sgt. Ping?

In 2013, the local theatre company did more of a variety show, with two short pantos and a number of musical numbers. If you’ve got half an hour, here’s the one I was in (Snowflake and the Five Gnomes), complete with pink wig.

The following year, as I’ve previously written, I ended up in the director’s chair with the world premiere of Will Shakespeare the Panto by Robin Bailes.

I figured I’d done my bit, that it would be someone else’s turn to direct in 2015. By April the silence (lack of offers) became deafening, so I decided to see what other pantos this Robin Bailes had written. Turned out there were a number, including Robin Hood and his Merry Men and The Return of Robin Hood. I ordered copies of both scripts. While I actually liked the latter more than the former, clearly the second could not be staged before the first. To the delight of the board, I told them I would be willing to direct not just the 2015 panto, but the 2016 as well.

Panto scripts usually come with suggested songs, emphasis on suggested. I can’t remember what was suggested for the act one finale number, only that I didn’t particularly like it. It took a while to figure out what to use instead, but when day the Queen song ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ suddenly popped into my head. Yes! I thought, that’s it! One thing I knew for certain, my Robin Hood (I already knew who it would be) would not be able to pull the song off. I wanted the full Freddie, cranked right up. Robin would have to lip sync, which he did.

That number became my all time favourite panto moment – the best bit being my friend Paul doing his Brian May air guitar solo.

It was absolutely gutting to discover after the run that the new camera which had been used to film the show was a piece of crap. It was absolutely impossible to sync the audio and the video, so there is no recording of the show. Wish I could share that number with you.

Favourite moment from The Return of Robin Hood? Hard to choose, but perhaps by the whisker, the fact that nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition.

And when I say nobody, that includes Robin Bailes, who wrote the play. Inserting the Spanish Inquisition was my addition.

Oh, and I did give Will Scarlett another air guitar solo in the finale.

After three pantos in a row, it really was time for some time out of the director’s chair.

In 2017 someone else did indeed step forward with an offer to direct a panto called May the Farce Be with You, a sort of Star Wars/Jack and the Beanstalk, in which I played nasty Lady Nipscrew (seen imprisoned, below), mother of the heroine, Annabelle.

I didn’t realise until opening night that I would be in competition with my mate Joe, who was playing the official pantomime villain, Garth Vader, for the number of boos received from the crowd. I think we came out about equal.

The following year’s panto, Pirates of Nursery Rhyme Island, was written and directed by a local author. I went to the auditions, requesting to be cast in a small role. When the director called me back, she wanted me to play the villain, Captain Jack Budgie. I balked at the number of lines to learn. She begged. I agreed. Half of Captain Jack’s speeches consisted of nautical gobbledygook. Not being a sailor, I found these speeches particularly challenging. (Not sure I made it through a single performance without having to call for a line.)

The best part of being in that particular show was the opportunity to perform with Alex, my Will Shakespeare and Robin Hood. I’d directed him in several shows, but never before had a chance to act with him. And he was playing the pantomime dame!

If you’re eagle-eyed, you may have spotted that this is the same jacket I was wearing as Sgt. Ping (or was it Pong?) in Aladdin. It’s been worn by many actors in many shows over the years.

Don’t get me wrong. Those two shows were fine. But they weren’t Robin Bailes.

Which got me back in the director’s chair last year with Robin’s Ali Baba. Which resulted in my second favourite panto moment.

Another lip sync song. Ali was willing to give it a go (and indeed did sing one of the other songs), but we simply could not find a karaoke version that did justice to the sax solo. The first time I saw Ray (Ali) do his Elvis legs in a rehearsal, I thought I was going to pee my pants.

Of course the bloody pandemic has made it impossible to produce a panto this year, but hopefully the fun will be back in 2021.

Fingers crossed.

From → Blog

2 Comments
  1. caseyparry permalink

    Loved this! Brought back so many childhood memories of village pantos. I did one at age 10 as a cat and a fairy–not being a dancer I had to borrow ballet shoes. You can imaine how bad I was by that! That year my dad was the villain King M’Ungri. We had very fine jazz trio who happily provided the live music, two local writers (so the jokes were very topical, but the show was over long). And that year the dame was played by the the World’s Biggest Liar.
    The same drama society is still going, tho’ no panto this year. My dad, after many years (including dame (twice!) and a repeat appearance as villain) hung up his acting boots last year.

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