One of the greatest British Christmas traditions (bar the school nativity play, Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding, Roast Turkey, Queen’s Speech and of course Mistletoe) has got to be going to a Pantomime.
Enlarge to check out the London landmarks!
It’s a such an intrinsic part of a British school kid’s life, that Mr Kiwi assumed that everyone, everywhere around the world has them. Sadly, us Kiwis clearly grew up as barbarians because we never got to boo and hiss at baddies, watch as older men dressed as women pranced around the stage and sing silly songs.
As such, I’ve been scheming for awhile for the perfect excuse to go (you see, whilst my Nephews love Doctor Who and will happily watch it with me, going to a pantomime was just too uncool.) Luckily the lovely Sarah – author of The Wanderblogger, photographer, recent expat and holder of the worlds biggest smile – thought her daughter might also like to see one, and we booked in to see Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hammersmith Lyric Theatre. Unluckily her daughter’s school took the class earlier in the week, but being a great sport we went anyway and she watched it again with us.
It is the most I’ve laughed in 2 hours, in a long, long time. The Lyric team have taken the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and mashed it up, added modern songs, a huge dash of pantomime traditions, a shedload of innuendo that floats over the children’s heads but has parents doubled in their seats, and adds fantastic costumes, hilarious antics and Twerking. The action isn’t set in some picturesque fairy-tale land but bang in the heart of urban Hammersmith.
Pantomime (informally, panto), is a form of musical comedy stage production, designed for families. It was developed in the United Kingdom and mostly performed during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, employs gender-crossing actors, and combines topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale. It 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. (Chur, Wikipedia)
Pantomime was developed from the 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte, but was developed in London theatres in the Covent Garden area to a whole new level of uniquely British comedy. Just so you know; you will scream, laugh, sing and in my case cry with laughter.
The leading male juvenile character (the principal boy) is traditionally played by a young woman, usually in tight-fitting male garments (such as breeches) that make her female charms evident.
An older woman (the pantomime dame – often the hero’s mother) is usually played by a man in drag.
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.
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 the prince.
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, 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. Nowadays the slapstick is more or less incorporated into the main body of the show.
Pink faux-Leopard walls of Jack’s Mum’s House. What more could you want?
All I know is that it was hilarious genius. So many current trends and celebs get a tongue-in-cheek mention; One Direction, Taylor Swift, Jessie J (with the suggestion that she was originally the giants enchanted harp), Gangnam Style, not to mention ‘what does the Fox say’. I loved the unscripted teasing between the cast mates – they are clearly having a fantastic time on stage.
I’m not sure it’s even the kids who have the most fun watching the show – it seemed to be us adults enjoying it the best – one guy near us was perched on the edge of his seat the whole time, shouting, laughing and dancing. My favourite pun of the day has to be the giant ruler that made up the background set of the giant’s castle, inscribed ‘Evil Ruler’. It’s still making me smile.
Sarah will have a write-up in the next while and much better photos than mine, check it out!