Do you know your Widow Twankey from your Buttons? Your Puss from your Peter? Well you better brush up on your stock characters and your double entendres, ladies and gentlemen, because once again, it’s that time of year – oh yes it is (oh no it isn’t!) – that the Panto season is set to grace our stages nationwide…
Panto is everything set down on paper that I would typically abhor on a stage. The bile inducing mince pie on top is the influx of contracted ‘has beens’ and ‘wannabes’ treading the boards in Disneystore costumes, in a desperate bit to churn the last bit of brandy butter out of the well-worn fame machine. But this is the season to be jolly, my friends, and I’m not about to go all Ebenezer – the fact is I bloody love it!
For the same reasons I love, Commedia Dell’Arte, Alfred Jarry, Joe Orton – I love Panto. Cleary they are all interferential in issues of style and form but Panto always seems to go by the wayside. Yes, it’s tacky and naff and altogether in bad taste but as far as I’m concerned, the best things usually are. I believe the trendy among us now label them ‘kitsch’.
Irreverent and rude, yet considered suitable ‘family fun’, it is the contradictory nature of Panto that I adore. When looking back to my childhood Christmases, there were always family outings to the nearest am-dram show and it still cracks me up now to think of my prudish grandparents, roaring away at near the knuckle innuendos – even though at the time it probably went way over my head. For a generational homophobe, I find it more than surprising how much my granddad seemed to love a man in drag! Surely this is subversion at its very best.
Panto is one of those rare things that if the set fell down, the actors forgot their lines and the band was out of tune, I would still have a great time. Hell, it’s not the same as watching a three hour technically inadequate performance of Pinter’s Caretaker and all the while wishing you (or the actors, more to the point) dropped down dead.
The other thing that’s so great about Panto, is that it gets people to go to the theatre who would never usually consider it and quite frankly, I don’t care if it’s for the right or wrong reasons, whatever they may be. My dad for one is never keen on the theatre but on the two occasions I can remember, he practically glowed after his dalliance with Cinderella and Scrooge. After A Christmas Carol, my dad turned around and said to me, “That was really good but it was a shame Shane Richie couldn’t be in it.” To which I replied somewhat confused, “But Dad, he played the main character…” Clearly the theatrical power of illusion held my father in full force: “Oh,” he said, “I thought it was weird that he kept talking about someone called ‘Peggy’.” Ha! Bloody brilliant.