Sunday, November 30, 2008

the plot is not the thing

Jinx and I had the privilege of watching a dress rehearsal of Aladdin on Sunday evening. When you describe a pantomime to someone who isn't familiar with the tradition, I can imagine they would look at you strangely and wonder what on earth there is of entertainment or interest to be found there. Surely, they might ask, the pantomime is a dated and anachronistic mode of popular entertainment?

Well, let's see. The central character is the "dame" - a man playing a big, blousy, slightly camp female character - in this case Widow Twankey. And then the title role is usually a male played by a female - in this case Aladdin. And then there are other clownish roles (here two policemen - Bamboo and Typhoo) and an evil Egyptian magician fella (whose name I forgot because it doesn't matter) who is after the magic lamp that Aladdin ends up with, allowing him to marry his princess. There are jokes galore, usually localised within the script, lots and lots of audience interaction, singalongs, chases round the theatre and my favourite of all - the audience screaming "Look behind you!". To enjoy it you must find the child within who has no preconceptions about how the world actually works, and enter a chaotic world of slapstick, colour, movement and dancing. The plot is always thin to non-existent...but the plot is not the thing that's important here.

When I was growing up in Bundaberg we lived in the same street that the Playhouse theatre is now still in. Every Christmas we would troop down in the stinking heat of summer to see the matinee. This was in the days before the theatre was airconditioned, but we would spend a raucous (and sometimes I must say, very long) afternoon doing all the things just described. The most exciting part was when it was all over and the actors would remain in costume and go outside to meet all the children as they filed out the theatre. This was a real thrill, and having been involved in Jack and the Giant (a previous panto production) in 2006, this joy has not changed in the intervening years. Kids are always fascinated (and sometimes I must say, a little freaked out) to see the actors come down from the stage and mingle amongst the audience.

Twenty five years later it's no different. Surprising as it may seem I found myself laughing at the jokes, singing and clapping along, and screaming quite loudly, "He went that way" during the chase scene. I hadn't laughed out loud that much for quite some time. What could be better than that?


lucy said...

you and jinx were both quite loud in the second half! it was great! i always hate being in the audience of a pantomime because i just want to hide at the back and say nothing!
I'm surprised you didn't get involved in theatre when you were younger...what with going to see shows...although that long afternoon comment may be the answer

Wendy said...

oh good...we were trying our best to sound like 20 small children so obviously succeeded! when I was younger i was just like you fear that one of the characters would come and sit on me knee or something embarrassing. i had speech and drama lessons when i was young but i really didn't enjoy never thought of the theatre...too busy with music!

lucy said...

exactly! very embarrassing and as a kid why was it always the front row!?
Just think of the Youth Theatre friends or 'friend' you could've made though...but I thought you'd be busy with music...that would've taken up a lot of time!

Wendy said...

yes or sitting on the end of a row where they could easily get you!

I made nice music friends instead...although I'm sure there would have been some nice people at theatre as well! ;)