Wednesday, 24 December 2008

my first panto!

Hi y'all! Well, I'm back from seeing my first Christmas pantomime EVER. JJDP took me to The Rosemary Branch on Monday night to see "Aladdin." The Christmas Pantomime version, of course. What does this mean? Well, I didn't really know what I was in for.

We met up at The Rosemary Branch pub/theatre in Hoxton. In order to get there - I was coming from my new new room in Bethnal Green -it seemed I had to go back to Hackney Central (where I'd left earlier in the day to move to the new new room) and then jump on the 38. And then walk. And walk. And walk. Sigh...having no internet connection in the new place yet, I relied on Kami looking at the website for the pub. I think I could have used tfl (that's the Transport for London website -- quite good, though sometimes does not tell you exactly what you want to know...).

At any rate, arrived there a bit after 6. JJDP was there with his new faux glasses and looking very incognito. I'm dead broke, so he ordered me some chips and an Earl Grey tea. They brought the tea with steamed milk! And the chips were more like yummy potato wedges dusted with parsley and lots of salt and some flavours we couldn't figure out. We asked for ketchup and mayo and they brought homemade mayo! We ate them all before going in to see the show. He also gave me an unexpected Xmas present! Yay presents! I still enjoy getting them, even though I can't give any this year. : ( And he gave me some bananas and avocados, too!

The show. Well...a very very very silly version of Aladdin, made sillier by many conventions which must be closely associated with the Xmas Panto. Ingredients seem to include:

- At least one character in drag
- Audience participation in various forms including booing at the villain, welcoming certain characters on stage with particular lines of dialogue, and responding to certain prompts in the negative leading to a banter
- Really silly character names
- Throwing things at the audience
- The audience throwing things back
- Being fully aware of the audience and talking to them in character, but outside the story
- Off-colour jokes a bit too veiled for the kiddies to see through
- The appropriation of show tunes, pop tunes and standards to be sung and danced with modified lyrics
- The introduction of running gags which do or don't pay off
- Puns. Bad ones. Loads.

There are probably more, too. The panto was horribly racist, I'm afraid to say, but also thoroughly enjoyable. I think it got away with it because it's racism was so incredibly dated, it was almost making fun of itself. Basically, an evil magician, Ava----something, needs to find Aladdin to gain the riches in the cave. Aladdin is apparently in China with his mother who runs a Chinese laundry, and his brother Wishy Washy. They also run a Chinese take-away. The humour is all sophomoric, the characters all completely arch, but somehow, it is a lot of fun. Everyone needs their mind taken off their troubles just now and after a while, you kind of accept what it is and go with it. It's just too silly not to like.

I think my favorite scene was the version of "Hernando's Hideaway" featuring actors dressed as big rocks with holes for sock puppet snakes who sang while Aladdin was trapped in the cave. Pretty f**king inventive. And funny.

The singers were all quite good, as well, which definitely helped. It's not that it's bad artists creating bad theatre. It is in fact, very good artists creating bad theatre. And maybe here is where the appeal is. It's much much easier to connect with the human level of entertainment that is presented here. It comes out of a much older tradition that is so much the opposite of television, or streaming video -- it is participatory, engaging, and evolving. It's satisfying in a way that none of our newer forms are. It's not cathartic in any traditional sense, but it's good fun shared by all. There is a sense of community and family present in the panto that is not lost because one set of people are on the stage and another set are sitting in chairs watching. It's as though, on another day, we could all just switch. It reminded me very much of why we all got into this business in the first place -- to have fun. It reminded me of Levels musicals, of breaking out into song in the JP room, and all the duets Naomi and I used to do (in fact, most of them were in the panto).

At the interval, JJDP and I talked books sitting by the heat on a little divan. After the show, he ordered Sticky Toffee Pudding -- my first. It was pretty damn good. I thought it would be super-sweet or just icky, but it was delicious and warm and pretty sexy for British food. I would do that one again! I had a coffee and we talked with the theatre manager and one of the actors. I got directions for a gentleman at the bar, who suggested going via Old Street. JJDP and I walked to the bus and got out at Old Street. He went to the tube and I got on another bus and was back home about ten minutes later -- much better route.

It was a really welcome night out. Really good to forget all the stresses of the day, of the past months and just be sort of, well, entertained.

There's something for everyone in the panto -- a mushy love storyline, bawdy humour, singing, dancing, broad comedy, screwball comedy, a bit of magic, and our favorite good triumphing over evil. What it isn't, is sentimental. You don't start tearing up at any point. I think maybe this is where it's Britishness comes in handy. An American version would somehow have the audience either all choked up or ready to upchuck. Somehow, though, the fact that they are doing this all with a wink is never forgotten, even in the sappier moments. In the end, Aladdin gets the princess and the riches. Everyone is made better for the experience, even our bad guy, and everyone goes home happy and feeling like the world still works as it should.

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