AN Australian’s time spent in the UK can be filled with any number of traditionally English experiences. Some of these are simple pleasures as straight forward as embracing the pub culture and enjoying a Sunday roast at your local. Others can prove slightly less attainable such as tickets to a Manchester United premier league game.
But one is both easily experienced and a truly English cultural experience, going to see a pantomime. For any Australian who does decide to experience a pantomime be warned that unless you grew up in the era before Johnny Young Talent Time was canned, you will be entering a strange yet wonderful world where the normal audience rules don’t apply.
So it was with cultural enlightenment in mind that I attended the production of Dick Whittington at the New Wimbledon Theatre. As well as cultural enlightenment, this particular pantomime also provided the chance to see one of Australian comedy’s most iconic performers Dame Edna Everage perform in the genre her character is perhaps most suited to.
As I discovered, there are a few key elements to any pantomimes;
- Audience interaction in the form of cheering, booing and well worn responses “He’s behind you” and “Oh no we don’t”
- Men in dresses playing female characters (known as Dames)
- A cast that includes some genuinely talent performers topped up by a big name, usually a soap star, which generally lowers the overall talent pool but increases ticket salesBrilliantly awful puns (the worst of which the actors may actually apologise for) and innuendo filled scripts (which ensures that the adults in attendance have something to laugh at while the kids enjoy the bright colours and movement)
- And historically, the lead male role is played by a female (usually wearing shorts that even AFL players would consider somewhat revealing). Supposedly this was enforced so that any Dad’s bringing their kids to the performance had something to keep them entertained.
What makes a pantomime performance so different from the theatre or a musical is the interplay between the audience and the performers. And the old hands of pantomime in the audience were switched on from the outset, immediately identifying and greeting the villain of the production with boos and hisses. While early in the show I was hesitant to join in shouting at the stage, a few red wines and the enthusiastic participation of the 80 year old woman sitting behind me made it clear that not joining in would be like. So by the end of the show, not only was I joining in, I had even gone so far as ad lib my own panto call. As it turns out, the panto community isn’t quite ready to include “That’s what she said” into the standard book of audience cheers.
With Dame Edna providing an antipodean edge to the show, I can safely recommend that attending a pantomime is a must do for any Australian this winter. However I would like to make one complaint, because for all the booing, sighing and cheering, not once did an opportunity arise to yell “HE’S BEHIND YOU!!!”.