Is it me? Pantomimes

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Panto season

Like many of my posts in this category I know this will not be a popular choice but I’m sorry I just don’t get it. Well that’s not true, I understand the premise, the history and the fact they are for families but I really think that they have morphed over the last twenty years into something rather tawdry, not family friendly and a cash cow for tired out of work “celebrities” who no-one really knows anymore. Of course this is mostly about the big professional pantos rather than the small local affairs that do a good job and are much closer to the old style traditional fayre we would expect. Still not a huge fan of those either. 

From the Commedia dell’arte to spoofs of famous or classic tales the tradition harks back arguably for nearly five centuries but today’s performances has really developed in the last hundred and fifty years into the creature we all know today. Even the “celeb” appearance isn’t a new thing but it has gradually become more about the turns and the money that the traditions. Also coarse humour has seeped into what should be a family entertainment – double entendre is par for the course but this year’s effort in Aberdeen has the joke “What’s a Shih tzu?” “A zoo with no animals in it.” Fine for an adult audience but perhaps trickier for the drive home with the curious six or seven year old in the back asking questions. 

With advertising campaign characters, reality TV stars and even people famous for being famous taking to the stage to earn a huge amount of money you have to laugh when they say how much they enjoy it – yes I would suppose doing between eight and fourteen shows a week is “great fun” when you are paid well into six figures for a few weeks work singing the same songs and doing the same jokes you did last year in a different town. That’s how it is now – rather than being a local event it’s a big business here companies own the rights to a handful of shows and do deals with theatres to rotate them round those venues. I know as well that without Panto many theatres would suffer financially but we must be able to do better than this. 

Rather than having gimmicks like 3D sections and high cost casting how about a well written and genuinely funny script? You people might come along for that occasionally – especially all the comedy fans there are these days. Consider how successful comedy tours are now and the level they work at surely there are writers that could improve and modernise (or traditionalise) the form again. Also stop trying to compete with cinema by having 3D bits, again use the fact it’s a theatre performance and put on a great theatre show. Panto is many people’s first experience of a theatre, but to get them back we need to increase the standard. 

The last two pantomimes I went to at HMT in Aberdeen were terrible. Slow, boring, predictable and without any real excitement. It’s fine to make it kid friendly, but to appeal to the grown ups by having some clever jokes in there too – and not vulgar one – would make me and many like me go to see one again. I have no issue with the traditions of the cross dressing characters or the slapstick routines but can we move on a bit and drag this “art” form into the 21st century? It’s changed and developed over the last five hundred years, trust this generation to break it. 

JD

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