Friday, January 18, 2013

Going to the Pantomime for Christmas 2012

After the great success at the Blackpool Circus, we bought tickets to the Christmas pantomime in Harrogate.

Pantomime (often abbreviated 'panto' because there are no mimes!) is an English tradition around Christmas and New Year's that dates back to the 1700s. The show is a musical comedy based on a fairy tale. Songs, dances, and jokes are non-stop. Songs can be original but often are adaptations of pop songs or other familiar tunes. Often jokes are made about local and national celebrities and nearby towns or shops. The shows are family-friendly and audience participation is encouraged. The villain taunts the audience and asks to be booed, for example. Some of the characters are played by actors of the opposite gender. The Dame, usually the mother of some character, is played by a man in outlandish costumes. The Hero is played by a woman, usually in some tight breeches so you know she's a girl. Two actors play an animal, usually a horse or a cow. The good fairy enters from stage right (the audience's left) and the villain from stage left (the audience's right), mimicking the ancient theatrical tradition that the right side is Heaven and the left is Hell. A chorus of extras provide back up dancers, singers, villagers, minions of the villain or whatever is needed for the story. Usually there's some slapstick scene involving baking or decorating and at least one sing-along for the audience.

The show we went to was Jack and the Beanstalk, so Jack was played by a girl and Jack's mom by a guy. That was the most unfamiliar element for us Americans. The interaction was a lot of fun, though J and L did not get into it right away. J was pretty stone-faced and still for the first ten or fifteen minutes, while we parents were booing the villain and saying hello to the other characters. He warmed up and was very enthusiastic very quickly. Toward the end, we sang along with one of the songs (a big placard came down to show the lyrics). Jack's younger brother Simple Simon (who was the main comedian of the troupe) led us. Then he divided the audience to see which half could sing louder. It was great fun.

The story mostly followed the fairy tale. The cow was pretty charming and the villain (a former fairy now working for the giant) was particularly good at being bad. He might have been too good, because L started saying she wanted to go home because she was scared. Luckily, some time sitting in Mommy's lap calmed her down. They did add some bits to the story. The princess threw a surprise birthday party for Jack at the king's castle, which allowed for the slapstick scene of decorating the cake by the Dame and Simple Simon. The good fairy was more of a narrator than an active character in the story, though she did turn the beans that Jack traded for the cow into actual magic beans (the villain in disguise bought the cow and lied about the beans he payed with!). One of the characters asks about the beans, "What magic does it do? Can it get you to the front of the queue at Betty's?" Betty's is a posh tea shop in town that has long lines on the weekend.

The production values were amazing. We thought the giant would just be a loud voice from off stage, but in the second act, doors at the back of the stage opened and he came out. The costume must have been ten feet tall and the head had moving eyes and mouth. It looked fantastic and I wondered how the actor was able to perform. The set was great, too, with the bean stalk shooting out of the floor and a variety of quality backdrops (one of which included the controversial windmills near Harrogate, which have been debated about in the local paper--spoils the natural beauty of the countryside, doncha know!). Our favorite joke was when Simple Simon went through the stage floor up to the giant's castle in the sky. Simon said, "I'm afraid of heights but my mother says it's just a stage I'm going through."

We really loved the show and can't wait to go back next year, which will be Sleeping Beauty.

J too mellow and L too wired at the beginning

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