Colin Montgomery:

Panto season. It's a right old laugh eh? Oh no it isn't! That joke was brought to you by the year 1956 '“ I haul it out of the loft and dust it off every Christmas, much to the chagrin of many a reader, no doubt.

Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 6:00 am
Andy Gray, Grant Stott and Allan Stewart in this years Kings Theatre panto, Cinderella. Picture: Douglas Robertson

Here’s another cracker: where’s your writing career Montgomery? It’s behind you! OK, that’s enough, I shall relent or the Evening News will be getting hate mail. But that’s quite a nice segue actually. For this week’s rant is all about what I’ve taken to calling Panto-ism.

No, it’s not some new art movement (although you could say that artist Grayson Perry has more than a ­little of the Widow Twankey about him when he cross-dresses). For a starter, as an ex-art student, I’ve had a bellyful of the ‘isms’. We could do with ­thinning them out. Impressionism gets a free pass. As does Surrealism. I draw the line at Futurism, if only because it reeks of another ism starting with the letters f, a, s and c. And the less said about that, the better.

But back to Panto-ism. The thought occurred to me while watching a local pantomime with my daughter at the weekend. It was Beauty and The Beast, done rather well actually. Aside from a distinct lack of forced references to topical events or ­current celebrities in the news, all the usual ingredients of this very British ­theatrical tradition were in place. We cheered the heroine. We laughed at the comic relief. We booed the villain. Such a simple construct, full of certainties. Not an ounce of nuance in sight. Except that is, the Beast.

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I don’t think a slot in Private Eye’s infamous Pseuds Corner awaits me if I say that the conflicted figure of the cursed Beast was a mass of contradictions – yes, even at the level of a local panto.

Yet such fuzzy ambiguity was all swept up in the grand narrative sweep of good versus bad (now I really am vying for a place in Pseuds Corner). To put it another way, what a binary world panto is. Yet for me, that rather heavy-handed divide is exactly what our own public discourse – in every forum – has succumbed to. And this infection with Panto-ism ain’t healthy.

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Review: Cinderella – Kings of panto reign supreme

Which is to say that a combative “us versus them” culture of Panto-ism is everywhere these days. More and more, the voices of reason, compromise and pragmatism seem drowned out by the intolerant voices of “yah boo sucks”.

Polemic is now the default position. It’s increasingly the active currency of our politics; it defines our economic understanding; it infects our social chatter online. From the divisive ravings of Trump to the either/or logic of referendums, from the bile of keyboard warriors to the contempt for consensus, we are circling the wagons.

Sure tribalism has always been there in some sections of society – just witness a local footie derby in Edinburgh or Glasgow and you see it writ large. But rightly or wrongly, sporting passions are always going to be seen in black and white.

With the exceptions of a few poisonous ne’er-do-wells aside, most people can overcome divides – be they sporting, cultural, political or otherwise – to reach a balanced détente. We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns after all (that’s a Burns reference, not a Hibs one). Life would be impossible without such concessions.

The tragedy is that such a Panto-ist understanding has now twisted every interaction into conflict.

The tragedy is that such a Panto-ist understanding has now twisted every interaction into conflict.

You say potayto, I say damn you, your family and your future offspring; I shall fight you to the death. Hyperbole admittedly, but it’s indicative of a directional shift in our public discourse – a noticeable hardening of attitudes, providing a backdrop of creeping legitimacy for extremist opinion.

Should that see invective banned in some misguided act of nanny-statism? No, not per se.

Trenchant oratory can be useful at times – a fine piece of rhetoric never goes amiss. But it’s dispiriting to see rhetoric hijacked by the Punch & Judy dynamic that has always characterised Westminster politics – even the feng shui of that place, with benches set against each other across a divide betrays an architecture of enmity, making it easier for playground rivalry to take root.

That’s not to discount the reality that life can be a pantomime at times. Witness my attempts to put up a flat pack (they should be selling ice-cream halfway through, it’s so laughable). But I’d rather that, like the best of panto, we ensure the comparison was always strictly light-hearted.

To get into the spirit, I thought I’d sign off with Edinburgh’s panto line-up for 2017 – your very own guide to the characters that define this capital. Any resemblance to reality is coincidental.

The Panto Dame will be played by Princes Street, the old girl/boy is as camp as Christmas right now. Leading lady has to be Kez Dugdale, given her recent audition on telly being such a success of course.

Leading man? To be played by Neil Lennon, but for how long folks? The Good Fairy should be Ann Budge, she’ll need that magic wand to make things happen for Hearts this season, I suspect. Assorted panto villains could be played by the city’s tram bosses (take your pick).

And not forgetting Buttons, played by Edinburgh City Council’s budget for next year.