Just what a saucy man in drag or a dancing gorilla have to do with Christmas remains a mystery to me, but we are nonetheless thrilled that we joined in the British tradition of going to a pantomime this holiday season. Friends here told us they never miss it, neighbors shared their plans to go in big family groups, and my older son even went to one on a field trip from school. Colorful posters and newspaper ads tout the celebrities that star in the classic family plays. They are most often based on fairy tales, like ‘Alladin’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Wind in the Willows’. After much deliberation over key features, like who had the best poster, we decided to head to Lincoln and see ‘Dick Whittington and his cunningly clever Cat’.
The first thing we noticed was that the leading male role was played by a young woman. This took a little explaining to school aged boys who asked…why is Dick a girl? We had not done our homework on Wikipedia yet and were completely unaware of this classic pantomime characteristic, so we told them that the actor who played Dick was sick and a girl had to step in at the last minute. Silly Americans. Then, the guy in drag came out with measuring cups attached to his chest and we knew right away that this was no ordinary play.
The character in drag was the mother of the main comic character and absolutely hilarious. He/she was over-the-top in every way, especially with the wild costumes and constant sexual innuendo. We now know that this is a trademark of family entertainment here in England and no longer a reason for feeling like we have unwittingly taken our children to an event beyond their years. It is all designed to go over the heads of the children, but I do wonder what they think of the endless cries of “did you hear that? He wants me!!” or “oh, take me now…”.
The story was about a guy who goes to London with his clever cat, is chased by a villain who is a rat, ends up being the hero and gets the girl. However, sometimes it was hard to follow due to outbreaks of pure silliness. Thanks to the internet I now know that the slapstick home decorating scene and the part where the gorilla comes out and the audience ends up in a volley with the actors of “oh no he didn’t” and “oh yes he did” are all part of the genre.
Hopefully I haven’t given too much away, but I wanted to share all the fun with my friends back home. If you want to join in the fun next year, Wikipedia says pantomime is big in Canada, eh.
The table dress was a sight to behold, but the rubber duckie getup was my favorite.