Oh, yes it is! (Panto season again)

I’m not a regular patron of the performing arts, but we do attend occasional productions. Every year we enjoy the Christmas pantomime put on by the Charles Court Opera. The company specialise in opera, operetta and pantomime performed in small venues (hence “boutique”). Their Gilbert and Sullivan performances are a lot of fun (HMS Pinafore and The Mikado earlier this year) and their pantomimes are a real hoot.

For those of you who don’t know what a pantomime is, it’s… er… a peculiarly British institution (emphasis on peculiar), a musical production that runs around Christmas time and is often based on a fairy tale. It includes bad jokes and puns, over-the-top shenanigans and dragging of hapless audience members on to the stage. The male lead role is played by a female, the “older female” (mother/evil stepmother etc) by an improbably padded male (the “dame”). The female lead is usually female (gasp!) but not always, as you can see with Snow White below.

The female lead seems rather… tall.

You can find some explanations of what pantomime is here, here, here and here.

Audience participation is a must. This might include singing along, hissing and booing when the villain comes on stage, shouting “Behind you!” or “No! Don’t eat the poisoned apple!” and the favourite “Oh no it isn’t!” “Oh yes it is!” exchange. You might think this appeals mainly to children, but even in adults-only performances (ooh-er!) there’s a huge amount of audience enthusiasm. I suspect some of this is nostalgia, but there’s also an element of letting your hair down and being generally silly.

This year’s pantomime was Buttons: A Cinderella Story, held in the King’s Head Theatre. It’s very loosely based on the Cinderella tale (that’s the one with the glass slipper and pumpkin coach), in the sense there’s a character called Cinderella and another called Prince Charming…

Cinderella, c1919 (5685779041)
Traditional Cinderella ending, where the prince fits the discarded shoe on to Cinderella’s foot
But it’s really the tale of Cinderella’s teddy bear, Buttons. We attended a “16+” rated performance. That meant full-on rude jokes rather than the usual innuendoes and double-entendres.

As is often the case in a small space, the stage set was simple but versatile—a ramp, a standalone platform and a wheeled trolley—and put to good use. Choreography was impressively energetic, with some amusing slow-motion moments.

The singing was superb—it’s obvious the cast are opera singers. I particularly enjoyed their take on Bohemian Rhapsody, and there were some very witty (and rude, naturally) adaptations of other popular songs. (I don’t listen to popular music. I’m embarrassed to admit that I could identify very few, other than knowing they sounded vaguely familiar. I’m sure everyone else knew exactly what they were.)

The story felt a touch rushed, particularly towards the end. In pantomime, it’s never a spoiler to say that Team Good Guys win and the villain gets his comeuppance. I was expecting a more drawn-out showdown, maybe a chase scene, and instead it came across as a rather abrupt deus ex machina. I was also disappointed we didn’t get a chance to have a singalong, but maybe that’s a relief too.

But it was still a lot of fun. Really, you don’t attend pantomime to appreciate deep, meaningful, thought-provoking stories. You attend for a fun night out and to remind yourself that there is art out there that doesn’t expect to be taken seriously.

Still showing until 5 January, if you want to grab yourselves a ticket.

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