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Our first panto [20050107|20:42]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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Marco and I went to our first panto this afternoon.

"Panto," for the non-Brits and Americans not so anxious to show off their anglophilia that they would rather go and look it up on the internet than ask, is short for "pantomime." It's traditional for British families to take their children to a panto for Christmas. It's considered a children's activity, I believe, because adults don't want to admit how much they enjoy this form of theatre.

Audience participation is a key element of the panto. You boo and hiss when the villain shows up, and cheer for the hero, and shout warnings to him when terrible things are about to happen. You're allowed to groan loudly at the jokes when they are very bad. It's also typical for at least some of the cast members to be cast in roles of the opposite gender.

We saw "Aladdin" at the Old Vic. Ian McKellen played the part of Widow Twankey, Aladdin's mother, and he completely stole the show. Not just because of his fabulous outfits, either, although the image of him clad entirely in white spandex with gold-trimmed bell-bottoms and a blonde wig a la Abba will never leave me. He had many of the best – and dirtiest – lines. He pranced onto stage in a miniskirt and a giant feather-topped hat, carrying a shield with the British flag painted on to it, turned his back to the audience, waggled his bum and said coyly, "Please note, this is Twankey's grand entrance."

We had to endure a lot of pretty cheesy gags ("Is that my corset?" "Course it is!") and a song or two by Elton John, but fortunately there was enough political and adult humor to alleviate the occasional tooth-grinding sweetness. For instance, the Emperor's first illusion was conducted with a magic Blunkett, which he claimed would fast-track the coppers (Hanky and Panky) directly to Aladdin's location. While Widow Twankey and her faithful helper Dim Sum were hanging out the laundry, they pored over, respectively, Ann Widdecombe's thong (she's a legendarily ugly MP), a gigantic bra belonging to Jordan ("It's shrunk in the wash!") and a pair of Bush's underpants ("Why's it got a flag on the back?" "So Tony Blair can hear him when he speaks.").

A pair of schoolboys sat next to me. One of them had clearly seen the panto before, because he spent a lot of time explaining the less obvious jokes to the other in a loud whisper. They were baffled when the adults laughed at the Widow Twankey suggestively telling the Emperor that she had something cheesy bubbling in the oven for him.

I'm sure they'll figure it out eventually.

Tomorrow night we're going to this. We are dressing up. There will be pictures, oh yes.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sadira42
2005-01-07 21:15 (UTC)
Oh my freakin' god, that sounds awesome! I must see pictures from tomorrow night! I am jealous. Stupid puritan country. Booo.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-01-08 10:31 (UTC)
It's supposed to be really good. I hope it lives up to expectations!
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[User Picture]From: elleclectic
2005-01-07 21:17 (UTC)
Oh, gosh, I'm all excited. Can't wait for pics, sounds wonderful!
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[User Picture]From: thirdbird
2005-01-07 21:27 (UTC)
I've always wondered what a pantomime really is. I used to read about them in British children's books (like the Noel Streatfeild "Shoes" books) and always thought it very odd that people would get so excited about going to a silent play.

You are having way too much fun over there, aren't you?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-01-08 10:33 (UTC)
We weren't sure what to expect, but neither of us wanted to pass up seeing Ian McKellen in drag. It surpassed my hopes. He's brilliant on stage. There was one point at which he was sauntering on to do a solo next to a baby grand piano and he tripped slightly in his high heels. It's a small things, but the way he timed it was just perfect.

I'd say it's about time I enjoyed my life! I feel like I'm finally learning to do so without guilt. It's fantastic.
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[User Picture]From: sekl
2005-01-07 22:54 (UTC)
Whee. What fun. Sir Ian must be such a treat to see.

I was surpised to read that Kevin Spacey was now the director(?) of the Old Vic.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-01-08 10:39 (UTC)
He's a top-notch diva. I'm not ashamed to say that I spent the scenes that didn't include him impatiently tapping my foot. The actress who played Dim Sum (a male character, btw) was also exceptionally good (Maureen Lipman - she was in The Pianist).

Kevin Spacey had the good sense not to attempt to direct "Aladdin." He freely admitted he had no idea what panto was all about, so he offered the director's seat to someone else.
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[User Picture]From: linne
2005-01-08 00:34 (UTC)
This panto thing sounds pretty cool actually. I live in Copenhagen and at the Tivoli here they show it every summer but I haven't been to one since I was a kid. I bet they're too politically correct to be much fun anyway. Time to do some research me thinks.

Adding you to my friend list here on LJ btw, hope that's alright.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-01-08 11:11 (UTC)
Interesting. I looked up the Tivoli on the web and it looks like the whole park is mainly geared towards children, whereas the Old Vic is an all-ages theatre venue. I think you're probably right about the panto at the Tivoli probably being a lot more tame as a result.

No problem about the f-list addition; I checked out your journal and am reciprocating.
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[User Picture]From: linne
2005-01-08 19:51 (UTC)
Yeah the Tivoli is one of the oldest theme parks around, if not the oldest. It has rides, restaurants, gambling and theatre. There's some for all ages, but the theatre is pretty timid as far as I know.
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[User Picture]From: thefounder
2005-01-08 00:40 (UTC)
glad you enjoyed the panto. it is a thoroughly bizarre institution [especially the 'leading boy played by girl' tradition, which i have never understood as somehow it's not added to the amusement for me, unlike the dame]. do you think panto would ever work in the US?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-01-08 10:45 (UTC)
I don't think panto would work in the US. The closest thing I can think of is the tradition of acting out The Rocky Horror Picture Show while it's playing on screen, and that only attracts a very specific type of person. It doesn't have the broad appeal that panto does here. Theatre in general isn't as popular with Americans as it is here. Americans prefer the cinema, which is a completely passive form of entertainment. I suspect they'd feel that it requires too much effort on their part.
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[User Picture]From: thefounder
2005-01-08 18:40 (UTC)
hmm. good point - though it leads me to wonder what future theatre has here as this country becomes more and more like the US in terms of culture. i suppose one could draw a parallel with the rise of 'bands' that do not actually play instruments at the expense of those that do - a more superficial form of entertainment, like cinema compared with theatre.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-01-09 12:24 (UTC)
Hm, I have to say, I don't think you have to worry too much about American-British cultural homogenization just yet. From my expat experience so far, I think I feel safe in saying they're still very, very different.
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[User Picture]From: thefounder
2005-01-09 13:33 (UTC)
thank you for that reassurance. i suppose we can't be that much more Americanised than most of the rest of the world anyway.
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