Panto Season Is Here!

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Chat
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Jack and the Beanstalk, Liverpool Playhouse

Pantomime season – welcome it with pleasure. Tickets go like… I was going to ‘water’, but I think we’ve had more than enough of that; so, tickets go like… Christmas.  We were lucky to get ours.

Friends Mark and Sarah write and direct; they have been doing it years. Liverpool is their venue, either the Everyman, or the Playhouse. This is must be their best show yet.

Come off it, they’ve all been good.

We got there on a freezing day; sea air from the Mersey made it even colder. Hardy folk, Liverpool folk. But it’s a great place, Liverpool; always seems so welcoming somehow. It doesn’t have to do anything, you just feel accepted, welcomed, taken into its generous embrace.

The programme calls it a Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto, which I suppose it is. But it makes it sound dated, a 1950s Panto. At best 1970s, before Prog Rock, Punk Rock; after that there were just so many different music styles, and hardly any wanted to be called Rock.

There were 3 or 4 school parties the day we went. The place was full, all two top tiers, and stalls. All very well behaved. Most were Juniors, some solely girls schools. They added so much to the atmosphere, joined in with the songs, the dances, the general fun. And when the time came to ‘clean the place’ ready for the next scene, and out came the water guns, the kids were laughing with delight. Life affirming.

The sets, the costumes, though – glorious! All the crew provide the music, as well as act and sing: back of the set is a small band area where those not in a scene, play guitars, drums, organ and probably lots of different instruments, but I was too busy watching the show. Over two hours of solid fun, songs, dancing; of glorious costumes and set: such an inventive set too. There was a travelling scene: above the background set was an inset where we saw the road behind being travelled. There were swings, and flying characters (Wonder Woman – and if you have to ask what she’s doing in it, then you’re definitely not Panto); there were villains and good ‘ens. And there was Gangnam style.

One of the joys of Panto is spotting the topical allusions… allusions? No, downright huge nudges. This is so Crackerjack (Crackerjack!); that was a real Friday tea-time treat, with Lesley Crowther and Peter Glaser: the top pop songs of the day given different words for the show (how did they get the rights?), the slapstick, the creaky storyline= sheer good fun. And so is Panto at its best: sheer entertainment – good dancers, great singers, spectacular sets and costumes, great music… and all for… sheer silly fun. I suppose you could say Panto pops the pomposity of Drama, of the revered ‘Stage’, something Shakespeare took to heart with his comic characters and scenes. But it is not too proscriptive about it, and that’s a huge plus.

I must admit my favourite character was the Cad: Griffin Stevens. Boo, hiss. He was great dancer, lovely rhythm, great fluidity; and he was an even better at being the Cad. His female cad, the good-bad Betsy-Esmeralda was also a great performer in her own right. Great charisma, great presence, great voice.

A good, tight show; and continually surprising, colourful, musical (Metallica! at one point) – a great afternoon out!

I was watching this, and I thought/felt: What a great way to earn your living! It’s like having permission to dance, to sing, to act, to act the fool, for a few hours every day.

That you have to do, say, three shows a day for only 2/3 months at most:  would you prefer to be stuck in an office?

And, in between, the rehearsals, the fraught times before first night, the nerves: yes but the sheer enjoyment of putting out a show.

The jockeying for position as egos flare and bubble: yes, but there’s the show, and everyone doing their part.

The only thing I don’t get about Panto is – this dame business. I have never found men dressing up as caricatured women particularly interesting or entertaining. Oh, they say, you must never mock women as a dame. Well, what are you doing, then? It’s easy to make fun of dresses and gestures and attitudes, caricature women – after all, we all know they are lower status. And what is funnier than making fun of lower status. This is why male-impersonators never have that impact.

Women as lower status.

That’s not funny; it’s shocking.

A cad is a cad, and a good ‘en a good ‘en – we know they are stock characters, like dames I suppose; the storylines are all stock too. It’s what you do with them, or around them, add to them, makes all the difference.

Mark and Sarah have made a Great show. It was worth all the damned hard work, the set-backs, horrors: the audiences just loved it to bits. In the show we went to, the end dance-around was extended because the actors spotted Vera at the front, an older woman, but she was having a great time dancing. So they played another number just to have/give more fun.

To go to a Panto is really to be ‘all in this together’.

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