Friday, December 26, 2014

He's Behind You!

A visit to see the pantomime at this time of year is part of British tradition.

So how does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza? Deep pan, crisp and even.

Yip, the old ones are the best and that is exactly the (low) standard of humour in the politically incorrect, cross dressing, sparkling world of the pantomime. And yes, it is for kids. But kids of all ages.

Small children get wound up to a state of apoplexy by it. I took my friend a few years ago, an Australian- who had grown up in the bush type of Aussie. Apart from the fact he only understood every second word, he soon got the hang of it and was ready for lamping the villain if he came within striking distance of his didgeridoo. That’s a panto type of joke. And the response to didgeridoo would be 'didgeridon’t'.  
Of course.

It’s the time when every theatre owner breathes a sigh of relief as panto is the one big sell out of the year and fills the coffers for the next twelve months of the Duchess Of Malfi.

Glasgow always has three going over the festive season. The Kings has a posh one which will have proper singers, maybe real ponies and maybe a bit of genuine ballet in it somewhere. The Pavilion  will have anarchy, lots of Glasgae sing-alongs, kids on stage, custard pies in the face, the pantomime cow  will be break wind  centre stage and the jokes will be clever, risqué and political. The Armadillo has a lavish, expensive production with lots of special effects. The pantomime cow's digestive issues will still get the biggest  laugh though.
                                               Don't go near the back end!!!
                                                 Stay at the udder end!

Wikipedia says it ‘developed from the dell'arte tradition of Italy. The word pantomime comes from the Greek word παντόμιμος (pantomimos), meaning pantomimic actor, consisting of παντο- (panto-) meaning "all", and μῖμος (mimos) meaning "imitator" or "actor", via the Latin word pantomīmus. A "pantomime" in Ancient Greece was originally a group who "imitates all" accompanied by sung narrative and instrumental music, often played on the flute.

Pantomime is vaguely, very vaguely based on a traditional children's story. Usually Cinderella, Aladdin, Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk etc. but what you see on the stage will have nothing to do with the story, so a narrator appears to tell you what has happened in the narrative while the  glittering anarchy goes on….

The plot, and often the script, goes out the window.  Well loved panto stars  get the audience in on the joke, the ad libbing, the scenery wobbling, jokes based on the news that day, the latest sex scandal, the banking crisis…. But done in such a way that it goes  over the heads of younger members of the audience.

The  principle boy is played by a girl, with a very short skirt on and long boots, and usually a low cut top. She will be played by a pretty young thing, a tv weather girl or Australian soap star or glamour model. It is said it can be useful if she has no sense of humour or is in possession of a low intellect so she will carry on with the script manfully,  as the maelstrom  of madness  goes on around her.
The principal  girl will also be played by a girl, but a more demure one. In a frock that will be pink and sparkly.
Somewhere will be a dame, played by a man.
Or ugly sisters played by two men. Or one man twice.

The narrator will be a sensible actor, usually a bit past his sell by date and the audience will keep thinking 'now what has he been in again?'
                                                                 oh yes it is!

There is a huge amount of audience participation, kids really get into it, Anytime somebody says ‘oh yes we are', the audience scream 'oh no you’re not'….. and an argument will start between the audience and the actor. There are songs, based on current pop tunes, but with the lyrics rewritten to fit the story. The narrator conducts the audience in singing along as the words appear on the side of the castle, the beanstalk, the backside of the pantomime cow. One side of the theatre has to out sing the other….

At various points the goodie will be on the run from the villain. She will be centre stage. The villain 
will creep up behind her… At this point the audience scream 'He’s behind you' (see Lynda Regan's crime novel of the same name for a panto based murder). To which the goodie suddenly becomes deaf ( maybe from the deafening singing that has gone on beforehand) and walks to the left to hear better,  stalked by the villain. Children choke on their ice cream and wet themselves with the tension.
The villain gets hissed and  booed every time he appears on stage. He will probably be the butt of a lot of in-jokes about an unpopular politician , but then there are loads of them to choose from.
Recently there has been a trend to have a huge American star appearing, with might deflect from the true nature of the panto, but it does get more bums on seats. Pamela Anderson, David Hasselhoff and Priscilla Presley have all been tempted to tread the boards. If the star joins in with the  nonsense, then it can really do their career  good – on the basis that if you do that under pressure you can cope with almost anything.
My favourite smutty story was the great Sir  Ian McKellen (2004 Widow Twankey , Aladdin) "lets down his hair and lifts up his skirt to reveal a nifty pair of legs and an appetite for double entendre” said a critics, but  another quote was  "At least we can tell our grandchildren that we saw McKellen's Twankey and it was huge.'
                                                       Yip, that is Ian McKellen

Some jokes…
Why was Cinderella such a poor football player ?
She had a pumpkin for a coach !

What did Cinderella say when the Chemist lost her photographs ?
Someday my prints will come !
Why did Robin Hood steal from the rich ?
Because the poor didn't have any money !
Stalwarts of the Glasgow panto scene are John Barrowman and The Krankies. He’s a very handsome Glaswegian/Canadian. They are a couple. Ian and Janet –  they found fame as a double act on children’s Tv with  the diminutive Janet playing a naughty school boy and Ian  playing the straight man.


  She is rarely is out the naughty wee boy persona, she gets  flung around over us head she climbs bean stalks, she gets beaten up... she’ll be 68 this year.

                                     Ian and Janet as they are in real  life...

Life can be strange...

Hope you had a good holiday. And wishing you all a happy, prosperous, healthy and creative 2015

Caro Ramsay 26th  Dec  2014


  1. What a delightful description of pantomime! I think it is time to be a kid again. All the best for 2015!

  2. Okay, you caught me. I went online to get a better grasp of what you meant by Ian McKellen's "twankey" and lo and behold found that some usages put it at "twenty."

    To my surprise I also learned that in its most common usage "twanky" and Pamela Anderson would never get together for a role in the play.

  3. Caro, you are fabulous. I only wish you lived next-door to me. I hope the New Year brings us together again. JOY to you and yours.

  4. Oh Jeff, if you had enjoyed ( endured ) panto as a kid, you would have known that Widow Twankey is Aladdin's mum and McKellen's Twankey would be as familiar to you as Olivier's Hamlet. But much less fun. For all concerned.
    After writing that blog I found myself casting the MIE pantomime, Zoe would be principle boy, Annamaria the fairy god mother and Stan/Michael would have to be the ugly sisters. Jeff could be 'dame'. Cara principle girl, Lisa Narrator, Yrsa in charge of reindeers.. I'll be villain and EvKa can sit in the audience and fling custard pies! At Jeff!

    1. Thank you, Caro, I'll probably be able to rally up an appropriate costume on Mykonos quite easily.

  5. Great, great stuff, Caro. You should be a writer!

    As for the custard pies, I'm in. But I'm a much better shot with, and much prefer to use, cow pies.

  6. This is one of the more surreal things I've read lately…now I think I'm going to have to Google Ian McKellen's Twankey...

  7. You always put a smile on my face and silly thoughts in my head. Thanks!