Saturday, January 23, 2010




I’m sorry to split it again, but there’s so much to say on this subject I have to break it up a bit. And the subject is pantomime, that last holiday tradition, more familiarly known as “panto.”

I’m going to quote now from what I wrote about panto in 2007, which was “published” in my Wales Digests as well as submitted to the BarrowmanOnline fan group after various people suggested it I send it to that group:

Now what is a pantomime, you may ask. It’s very hard to describe. I would call
it theatre’s equivalent to an amusement park, or a vapid, flashy, happy musical
mixed with improv comedy mixed with warped Mystery Plays from the Middle Ages mixed with The Bird Cage. I think it was Bernard Shaw who said that no opera
plot is sensible because in sensible life, no one breaks into song. I think that
is a good way to describe this panto.

It was actually called Jack and the Beanstalk, as most of them are based on fairy tales but retaining only the merest semblance of a plot. All the elements are there—brave Jack slays the giant, he sells his cow for a bag of beans—but there’s a ton of nonsense thrown in for good measure. Take, for example, the unexplainable habit of getting a man to play the old woman’s part. In any case, strange as I found panto to be, I also found it to be quite enjoyable. Audience interaction is a must, and with a
large group of children in the theatre, we had a very good atmosphere. The
supernatural characters, including the Good Fairy Daffodil (who WALKED on stage
in a cloud of smoke) and the baddie Flesh Creep, spoke in verse, but still were
able to bring in modern references. The damsel in distress Princess Apricot
Crumble was every feminist’s worst nightmare, but she did get to sing the
catchiest tunes. Speaking of which, the songs were all lifted from pop culture
with some minor changes (and everyone sang at the slightest provocation, of
course)—“I Can See Clearly Now” being one, “If I Can Dream” being another one,
“Don’t Feel Like Dancing” by the Killers being another one, “Toxic” being
another one (this had to be seen to be believed) and some more that I’m
forgetting. Along with the singing was lots of dancing by furrow-browed children.

Jack Trott, the hero, has a brother named Simple Simon who’s supposed to be seven, though the actor must have been 50 +. He also had a mother who was actually a man, but who got to wear the coolest costumes (I’d love to design costumes for panto!). Jack rode around on a Vespa while his mother drove a golf cart. One of the coolest parts was when they escaped the giant’s Cloud City to ride around Cardiff—which was achieved by means of a large movie-style screen which filmed IMAX style car’s-eye-view of Cardiff. Like riding a roller coaster! The giant was awesome, an eight-foot-tall animatronic monstrance like you’d seen on a Tournament of Roses float. The beanstalk was really cool, as well, though he didn’t actually get to climb it. There was a glow-in-the-dark section where dancers dressed up as butterflies and owls flew around.

And the jokes! Needless to say it’s not the most high-brow humor. But most of it is slapstick and kid-friendly, especially at a matinee. There was one part during a Simple Simon/Dame Trott scene where I could not stop laughing. And the potshots at Welsh cities were unmistakable—Port Talbot and Newport did not escape a lashing, and Swansea really got it. “If you enjoyed today’s performance, tell all your friends you saw it at the Cardiff New Theatre. And if you didn’t enjoy it, tell them you saw it at the Swansea Grand!” I then had ice cream at the interval, which is THE done thing. At the end, the entire theatre sang happy birthday to an 87 year-old Cardiff woman and four lucky children got to go up onstage.

And John? . . . When we got inside, we found out that John was not actually there because he had a throat and chest infection. Bad luck indeed! So I didn’t get to meet him, and I didn’t get to see him in a role I see would clearly have suited him well (they kept all the jokes in, like “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an American” and he brought his brother Simon a Dalek as a gift, when all he wanted was Billie Piper). Still, as you can see, the panto was fun.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to note that I bought another ticket for Jack and the Beanstalk and actually saw Barrowman in the role.

I’m so very glad I did. John was back by Wednesday and seeing him lived up to every expectation. It was really a difference to see him onstage and performing the part—he was fantastic. Such energy and humor—not that the understudy wasn’t any good, but there’s just something about John that makes you want to keep smiling the whole way through. Plus he really is too gorgeous—-even from the upper circle I couldn’t believe how good-looking he was. It was a weird disconnect, too, hearing this voice you know from CDs and TV and trying to reconcile it with the fact it’s coming from a real live man on the stage in front of you. I was impressed at his vocal prowess, as well—even though he was recovering from a throat and chest infection.
His interaction with the children was especially endearing.

I went again to a panto this year, at the Cardiff New Theatre, with John Barrowman in the lead. And I’ll tell you about it and how it fit into the pantomime mold in the next entry.

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