On Sunday night just gone (by “just”, I mean like 3 or 4 days back… things just happen around here, OK ?), I experienced the wondrous jewel in the theatrical crown of Britain – the time honoured medium of Pantomime.
It's kind of funny when you hear Brits refer to panto – they talk about it as if everyone knows exactly what it is, and in fairness I guess most of them do. The one we saw comprised mainly 4-10 year olds in the audience, with an amount of supervisory adults thrown in, and then random others like Charlie, The Puzzler, and myself. So it seems that Brits are subjected to this as an annual ritual from an early age – and it is almost a ritual ! The dutiful calling out of audience responses like “He's behind you !”, or “Ooooooooooooh no it isn't !” kind of reminded me of some of the slightly more lunatic Rocky Horror Show screenings I've been to. It's a bit like church – everyone knows the appropriate place to say the appropriate response to what the guy up the front says. Except this had more screaming in it.
Don't get me wrong – it was an extremely enjoyable night ! For starters it was my first foray into the medium, and therefore it was cool to get swept up in the audience participation of the thing. None of this sitting quietly while art was played out afore us ! Get in there and shout “booooooooooooo!” to your heart's content !
One of the main drawcards of a pantomime is the B or C list celeb that they've roped in to perform. Typically, I'm told, one of these is a soapie star, and more often than not they're ex-Neighbours “actors”, which I suppose fuels the myth that Aussies knwo anything at all about panto !? Wouldn't it be funny if the English thought it was an Australian thing, and the Aussies thought it was a British thing, and in reality it was nobody's thing other than a silly invention somebody dreamt up ?
ANYWAY, celebs. The one we saw was proud to advertise that playing the part of The Dame was a man who made a career out of acting as camp as a row of pink chiffon tents, Mr John Inman (aka Mr Humphries, from Are You Being Served). Sadly, upon arriving at the theatre we discovered that he wasn't performing that night due to illness. HOWEVER, there was still a greater, and far more potent a lure for us to witness the spectacle and sheer talent of. For tonight, in this very building, I was to see….
I tell you, for a hand puppet, he has an amazing amount of presence. Basil Brush is definitely one of the most versatile and talented performers of our age. I was utterly awestruck. OK, I got a little cranked off at the way they kept getting us all to shout “Boom Boom, Basil !” every time his furriness decided we should… but here I was, realising a previously unattainable childhood goal.
As for the story – it was a fairly perfunctory nod in the direction of Dick Whittington. Granted, panto's hardly the forum for in depth interpretative theatre, but I can't help feeling they skimped on detail somehow. In essence, a tramp finds a cat, somehow gets a job as an assistant shop steward, gets implicated in a jewel heist, is cleared of wrongdoing owing to the utter stupidity of the actual perpetrator, and then by the strangest electoral process I've ever heard of, somehow becomes Lord Mayor of London. It was quite clear to me that these kids aren't big on plot cohesiveness.
Right, so that was my pantomime. Rather a lot of fun, and I'm glad there won't be an opportunity to do that until next Christmas.