Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
Today we look at the Pantomime –that great British Christmas tradition. I have chosen it to follow musicals because a pantomime is an all singing all dancing extravaganza with lots of famous guest stars.
According to Wikipedia:
A pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and (to a lesser extent) in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It employs gender-crossing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. Pantomime is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.
Pantomime has a long theatrical history in Western culture dating back to classical theatre. It developed partly from the 16th century commedia dell'arte tradition of Italy and other European and British stage traditions, such as 17th century masques and music hall.
I have chosen to talk about the pantomime because Cinderella is one of the most popular stories performed. So what makes a pantomime a pantomime and how does it differ from a conventional play?
Again, thanks to Wikipedia for this information.
The form has a number of conventions, some of which have changed or weakened a little over the years, and by no means all of which are obligatory.
The leading male juvenile character is traditionally played by a young woman in male garments (such as breeches). Her romantic partner is usually the principal girl, a female ingénue. NOTE: I have actually only seen one panto like this in the nearly sixteen years that we have lived in the UK.
An older woman (the pantomime dame – often the hero's mother) is usually played by a man in drag. NOTE: This has been true in every panto we have attended, which is why Cinderella is such good fun—you get two men in drag for the price of one as there are two ugly step sisters.
Risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases. This is, in theory, over the heads of the children in the audience and is for the entertainment of the adults. NOTE: This is true in every show we have seen along with the most terrible, corny jokes that make me laugh like a donkey.
Audience participation, including calls of "He's behind you!" (or "Look behind you!"), and "Oh, yes it is!" and "Oh, no it isn't!" The audience is always encouraged to hiss the villain and "awwwww" the poor victims, such as the rejected dame, who is usually enamoured with one of the male characters. NOTE: This is the best part. You get to shout at the stage!
Music may be original but is more likely to combine well-known tunes with re-written lyrics. At least one "audience participation" song is traditional: one half of the audience may be challenged to sing "their" chorus louder than the other half. Children in the audience may even be invited on stage to sing along with members of the cast.
The animal, played by an actor in "animal skin" or animal costume. It is often a pantomime horse or cow (though could even be a camel if appropriate to the setting), played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.
The good fairy enters from stage right (from the audience's point of view this is on the left) and the villain enters from stage left (right from the point of view of the audience). This convention goes back to the medieval mystery plays, where the right side of the stage symbolised Heaven and the left side symbolised Hell.
A slapstick comedy routine may be performed, often a decorating or baking scene, with humour based on throwing messy substances. Until the 20th century, British pantomimes often concluded with a harlequinade, a free-standing entertainment of slapstick. Since then, the slapstick has been incorporated into the main body of the show.
At some point during the performance, characters including the Dame and the comic will sit on a bench and sing a cheerful song to forget their fears. The thing they fear, often a ghost, appears behind them, but at first the characters ignore the audience's warnings of danger. The characters soon circle the bench, followed by the ghost, as the audience cries "It's behind you!" One by one, the characters see the ghost and run off, until at last the Dame and the ghost come face to face, whereupon the ghost, frightened by the visage of the Dame, runs away. NOTE: Okay, I was wrong. This is the best bit. It does involve shouting at the actors but also some spooky music and jaunty dancing.
When you watch a pantomime of Cinderella there are some features that appear in almost every show:
Cinderella lives at Hardup Hall. Her father has died, and she is awaiting her two stepsisters to come and join her at the dilapidated manor house. The house has fallen into disrepair since the death of her father who died leaving debts.
A servant named Buttons works at Hardup Hall. He is secretly in love with Cinderella, but she sees him only as a friend. When he comes on stage, he shouts, “Hiya kids!” and you have to shout, “Hiya Buttons!” or something similar. At our local panto, he is called JJ Buttons and he shouts, “Wayhey!” and you reply, “JJ!”
· The prince and his manservant Dandini swap places so he can venture out in the world without being recognised. In it is in this disguise that he meets Cinderella and the stepsisters who think of him as a servant.
The stepsisters wear increasingly outrageous outfits as the show progresses. In every show we ever seen of Cinderella, they have also picked out a poor man on the front row and flirted with him outrageously.
Cinderella being "tested" by the Good Fairy in disguise to see if she is generous and kind and deserving of help. She is.
Buttons try to cheer Cinders up by dressing her for the ball with a colander on her head for a crown, 14 carrots on a string for a 14 caret necklace and a clothes horse to pull an imaginary coach before she gets transformed by the Good Fairy.
Real ponies are often used in as a "walk on" to pull Cinderella's coach. (I don't like this bit from an animal welfare standpoint)
The rest is as you would expect—abuse, redemption, a ball and a slipper, a midnight curfew, and a wedding. The cast is also riddled with famous actors taking the lead roles. At our local panto, they are more local famous people, but famous people nonetheless.
Here are some scenes from a panto version of Cinderella. It was filmed live for TV and is full of famous faces that sadly my American friends will not recognise, but my British ones will.
This is an introduction to Cinderella, Buttons and the evil stepmother.
Meeting the ugly stepsisters and the real Dandini.
Cinderella's "test" (in this one the Good Fairy is played by gay icon Julian Clary) and the Prince and Dandini swap places.
The Prince in disguise meets Cinderella in the woods, the stepsisters wear some ridiculous outfits, and Cinderella thinks she is prevented from going to the ball.
Buttons tries to cheer Cinders up, the good fairy transforms her rags to a ball gown and a real pony appears to pull her coach.
At the ball Cinderella and the Prince dance, fall in love and kiss and then she runs away at midnight.
Slapstick with the ugly stepsisters which involves hanging wallpaper.
Trying on the slipper and a marriage proposal.
That's all for this week, stay tuned next week for a gender bending Cinderella.