We shouted. We booed and hissed. We sang our hearts out. We bobbed up and down and followed the words on the big board. We warned the heroes when danger lurked behind them! Oh YES! We have been to the pantomime and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the evening too! There are some things that you just have to do if you are English, or are in England around Christmas time. Going to the Panto is one of them, as any child will tell you. No matter that the child is possibly sixty or seventy, the lure of the traditional panto remains strong in the blood of every kid after their very first visit.
So it was that one of our surprise presents this year was an evening out at the pantomime with our son and daughter in law. And what an evening it was. Filled with a few hours when we forgot that we were supposed to be grown up and sensible, so instead we joined in just as we did when we were kids, and also when we had taken our own children when they were four or five.
The magic still prevailed and soon the whole audience were hissing and booing as soon as any of the ‘baddies’ appeared on stage. Naturally we were alerted to the fact that they were indeed bad by their names – like Squire Squelch and his henchman Evil Eric! Oh yes, subtlety was not one of the hallmarks of the evening. But then again that is all part of the fun.
Although panto has some fairly clear rules, one of them is the sheer amount of ad libbing that goes on, normally instigated by the Dame as the central character. This means that the rest of the cast have to work pretty hard to keep up and to work out just at what point they are going to return to the original script. The audience in turn look forward to seeing just how they cope and also eagerly await to see who in the crowd is going to be picked on.
This time the unlucky members of the audience were anyone from Mansfield, a town some ten or twelve miles away. Sure enough when the audience were asked where they were from and someone shouted out ‘Mansfield’ the Dame’s eyes lit up. Here was a chance to really get the rest of the local audience on her side and boy, how she played the ‘Mansfield people aren’t all that bright’ card.
Naturally this caused the rest of the audience great delight and you could be sure that whenever anyone in the cast went slightly wrong, the Dame or one of the others would wink at the audience and hiss loudly that the cast member was ‘probably from Mansfield’.
Now should you ever go to a panto and are lucky enough to get seats downstairs then the one thing that you do not do is decide that you need to take a comfort break – or else you are in for a really rocky time. But nobody seemed to have mentioned this to the gentleman right near the front, so when he tried to creep out ever so quietly and unobtrusively he became instead the focus of everyone’s attention.
That was helped by the fact that the Dame stopped the performance in mid speech and asked for the spotlight to be turned on the unfortunate gentleman.
‘Are you alright dear?’
‘Er, I was just popping out for a moment?’
‘You’re not bored with things are you? If you want to you can come up and help us out if you like?’
‘Oh no, I was just…’
‘Taken short were you dear?’ asked the Dame ever so solicitously. ‘If you like, I can hold the show until you get back. I wouldn’t want you to miss anything.’
By now the whole theatre were giggling at the man’s embarrassment and also probably breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them and what a good idea it had been to make sure that little Johnny had been to the loo before they sat down.
The fairly chaotic plot was resumed and everyone settled back in to the usual warning the hero that the baddies were behind him or her. Or that the missing goose/love interest/ important clue was ‘Over there’ and ‘Not where you’re looking’. I’m sure that you get the general idea of how this thing works by now.
At which point the missing gentleman would make his return and everything would once again stop mid way through a scene.
‘Are you alright now?’ asks the dame
The man nods and wishes that the earth would swallow him up.
‘Well, whilst you were away this is what happened. Now let me think. If I forget anything I’m sure that the rest of the audience will help me to remember.’
By now the rest of us are equally willing to make the poor man suffer, but fortunately for him, time and the need to get on with the plot let him off quite lightly this time.
There are about fifteen or so standard pantomimes with the most popular being Cinderella, probably followed by Dick Whittington or Jack and the Beanstalk and of course Mother Goose, which is the one we went to.
The rest of the evening included singing along to songs, accompanied by actions, getting kids up on stage to help with this of course and generally making sure that the audience participated fully at every turn.
The heroine and hero finally agree to get married, the golden goose is saved and the wicked fairy is vanquished – these are givens. But most of all the whole audience is given a chance to forget about being sensible and to join in as if they were once again little kids. Now that’s what I call entertainment!