Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Behind You! - A Guest Post by Becky Gudgin

During our recent trip to England, we went to a theatre in Wales to see a Pantomime, that most British of theatrical events. I was going to write about it here, but then I was struck by the thought that it might be even better to get a genuine American's interpretation of the spectacle. Now, where can I get one of those? Oh, that's right, I'm married to a genuine American!

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I’ve been asked to explain British pantomime. I am not British. My husband is. But we both recently went to our first panto, Sleeping Beauty, in Swansea, Wales.

A British panto is the retelling of a classic fairytale in musical form. The lead players are usually well-known actors from TV, stage, etc. Some of the lesser characters are brought in or well known local actors. The ensemble consists of kids and adults who are local actors/theatre students. Audience participation, in the form of "boo", "yay", "awwww", etc., is encouraged. There is often a good and/or bad fairy, a simpleminded comedian who interacts with the kids in the audience and a "dame"- a guy dressed in bad drag. There is a lot of innuendo meant to go over the heads of the kids and entertain the adults, much of which comes from the dame. There are local jokes and references to the main actors' best-known roles.

This play had Sleeping Beauty, her father the King, the Prince, Silly Billy (the simpleminded comedian), a dame (Nurse Nelly), a good fairy (yay!) and fairy “Bodybag” (boo!!!). The Prince and Sleeping Beauty played the story straightforwardly. Everyone else went back and forth between moving the story along and just goofing around - improvising and entertaining the audience while the set was being changed, etc. The first act was fairly close to the plot of the fairytale. It began with Sleeping Beauty being born and the fairies lining up to give her gifts. Bodybag was not invited and thus cursed the baby to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die before her eighteenth birthday. It ended with Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a spinning wheel despite the best efforts of the Prince and the King.

At some point the audience was thrown sweets (candy) and squirted with water guns. (My daughter was sorely disappointed not to get wet.) Nurse Nelly meanwhile, picked out some hapless guy from the audience and flirted with him shamelessly from the stage for the whole show. A somewhat traditional scene had Billy and Nurse Nelly baking. They were making "toad in the hole" - a British dish with sausages hidden in a kind of bready batter. Aside from the sausage innuendos, there was flour flying in Billy's face and smoke from the oven that prompted the audience to obligingly shout "Look behind you!"

The second act was a departure from the fairytale. Of course the good fairy had changed the curse from death to a sleep of 100 years. How was the Prince going to live 100 years to awaken her? She sent him flying thru time! The flying scene was fantastic with wonderful special effects. I leaned over to my daughter and said "[The Prince] is flying". She condescendingly whispered back to me that he was just on strings.

When the Prince landed, he went to Sleeping Beauty and awakened her. But Bodybag was not done. I am afraid to tell you what happened next! Being a huge fan of the actor who played the Prince, I was prepared to storm the stage but I held myself back. The bad fairy tried to steal the Prince! She hypnotized him and tried to get him to marry her! (Boo!!! Hiss!!!!) Sleeping Beauty showed up just in time and he was saved by the power of love. (Awwwww!!!!) Then Bodybag turned into DRAGON Bodybag and tried to stop them. The swashbuckling hero fought the dragon and eventually killed it. The closing scene with plenty of singing and dancing was Sleeping Beauty’s eighteenth birthday party combined with her wedding.

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Space didn't allow Becky to include all the Pantomime traditions we were treated to. Wikipedia has an excellent description of Pantomime, and how it works, if you want to find out more. And of course, we welcome your comments and questions.

4 comments:

Traci Jones said...

Lovely to hear about pantomime again - I suspect sometimes the adults enjoy it more than the children! Did you enjoy it Becky? And how about your daughter? Who were the celebrities in this one?

Becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

Molly and I did indeed enjoy it but I think that Graham laughed louder than most of the kids!
However Molly and I enjoyed one thing more than Graham did. We had gone to this particular panto to see BBC's "Any Dream Will Do" contestant, Lewis Bradley. In addition to enjoying his performance, we got to meet him afterward!!!! Molly got special attention and a kiss from Prince Charming!
This was edited way down from an review I wrote for his forum.
In addition, Malandra Burrows (from the British soap, Emmerdale) and Helen Fraser were in the cast.

Graham said...

By the way, reading the Wikipedia article referred to in the post reveals that there are indeed some companies in the US performing Panto. Check them out if you fancy a taste!

Becky's revealed my big secret: that I was laughing more than anyone in our group. @Traci - you're absolutely right about adults enjoying it more (or at least as much) as the kids. Good panto is designed to appeal on different levels. This certainly did. There was plenty of innuendo, which of course flew right over the heads of the kids. Yes, I loved it.

A word also about Lewis Bradley, runner up in the BBC show "Any Dream Will Do," shown a few years ago in the UK, but only last year in the US. The show was set up to find the next star of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's West End production of "Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat." Although I did like his performances in the TV show, I wasn't as wowed by him as my Wife and daughter. My Wife has become a regular fixture on the Lewis Bradley website's forum, and was really looking forward to seeing him in person at the panto. I was looking forward to seeing the panto, but I wasn't as enthusiastic about seeing Lewis as some in my family!

I must say I was really impressed by the way Mr Bradley conducted himself at the stage door when he came out to meet Becky, my daughter Molly, and some other fans who had congregated there. It was freezing cold (we were all wearing thick coats), yet Lewis hung around for ages in just a thin sweater, talking to everyone, and making a point to be especially friendly with my daughter. He genuinely seemed interested in talking with us. He even gave us some advance news that he had just been given a part in "Wicked" on the West End (he'll be understudying, but will actually soon get to play the role for a few weeks). He's a very personable young man, and behaving as he did will not harm his career in the slightest! He certainly won me over.