The English Christmas panto
Oversized set. Bright colours. Glittery costumes. Local celebrities. Bad guys. Theme songs. A giant. Water guns. How theatre should be. The annual Leicestershire Christmas pantomime is pretty exciting stuff. The whole audience is a part of it, calling out, singing, clapping along, squealing when threatened with water guns… although I thought I was going to have a seizure from the flickering light sabers and windmills many of the younger audience members had. In my day you had to blow on a paper windmill to make it turn. Now they’re motorised and contain blinking lights.
Jack and the Beanstalk had the traditional panto story, with characters developed from commedia dell’ arte. Jack is in love with Jill, but since she’s a princess, and his family owns nothing but a cow, Jill’s dad (the King—played by the local primary school teacher who always sings the loudest in assembly) won’t hear of them getting married, unless Jack can slay the giant (voiced by an ex-RSC actor) who lives in the clouds about the village. Jack’s not really sure how to do this (he’s not particularly bright, his brother Tom could probably have done it in a blink of an eye) but luckily, when he is out trying to sell the family cow in order to feed his family, he runs into an old crone who offers him three beans for the cow. Seems a pretty poor deal, but she promises him that they are magic. Jack takes a gamble, gives the woman the cow and takes the beans home, much to the upset of his mother (the pantomime dame). One of the beans grows into a giant beanstalk. Jack climbs it, kills the giant and comes home to marry Jill. And the suspicious magic bean woman turns out to be a fairy (and when she’s off stage, the host of radio Leicester).
Jack was okay but my favourite character was Tom, the lesser known brother to Jack. He was played by the guy who was Buttons last year in Cinderella. Personally, I don’t know what Jill was thinking. Tom is the one who’s had my nieces and me singing his theme tune ever since. That’s how it tends to go in these shows, though. The lovers are pretty to look at but tend to be a bit of a bore.
It’s unclear what the moral of this panto was. If strangers offer to swap you magic beans for your family’s life source, you should trust them? If two guys sing “we’re bad, we’re bad, we’re really really bad. We’re bad!” every time they enter or exit the room, you probably shouldn’t trust them? I don’t know, but I’m going to go with Tom’s lesson about pantomime: “Come on, you can talk back. You’re not watching television.” Right on.