YOU have to wonder at the warped mind that stared at a blank sheet of parchment, quill in hand, and thought: “I must write a play with rubbish jokes, men dressed as women, girls as boys, audience participation – oh yes I will, oh no I won’t – a wicked baddie entering stage left with a curly moustache and a fairly loose story line.”
No doubt a fair amount of ye olde mead was consumed before the panto idea took shape. Who knows how the first performance went down – a seven-star Evening News review wasn’t even a twinkle in entertainment editor Liam Rudden’s eye, that’s for sure.
Amid the rush, the nauseating party food – another Iceland Chicken Zingy Slider anyone? – the annual wrestling match with the tree and that nail-biting moment you plug in the lights and pray you don’t blow up the street, there has to be time for fun. So off to the panto we go, to eat Minstrels while kids in the seats behind put popcorn in the hoods of our jackets and kick our seats so that it takes every ounce of self control not to stick their flickering light sticks up their little noses. Cringe at bad jokes, howl at good ones and do the whole “it’s behind you” thing, for if you can’t boo actors at Christmas you’d have to wait until the Fringe come back around and that’s far too long.
We all seem to love this quintessentially British phenomenon – yes, Canada, Australia even, apparently Japan, have versions but I’ll wager they will never ever be as good as Allan Stewart, pictured, with hugely inflated boobs, Grant Stott attempting a menacing growl while stifling a smile and the King’s Theatre howling at another trams joke.
Like the Queen’s speech, Only Fools and Horses repeats, busy A&E departments full of people with bloody noses and vomit down their front, pantos are our loving gift to mark the birth of Jesus. He probably had enough frankincense, myrrh and gold anyway.
While we snort and howl and laugh, an army of theatre folk have spent hours shouting at each other to try to remember their bloody lines and hoping the Beanstalk doesn’t fall on their heads.
Winter Wonderland may be pretty, the Star Flyer a challenge, the £5 burger might even be delicious. But all you panto luvvies . . . oh yes, we’re right behind you.