Okay, first up I’m going to refrain from saying any of those well worn phrases from pantomime land and just get on with the blog.
(reader’s voice) “Oh no you won’t”
Oh Yes I will!…Bugger!…..It’s that time of year again where men dress and women, women dress as men and someone warning that ‘It’s behind you”, nope not a regular Saturday night out in Brighton, but Pantomime season is upon us once again. With this in Mind, the Brighton Writer invites you to peep behind the curtain on a couple of the characters that have become two of the mainstays in pantomimes, the Dame and the Fairy Godmother (in a variety of guises) and to see where they are playing over the next few weeks across the South.
Every year there is reports of the decline of the pantomime. This year is no different with reports suggesting there is a decline in women taking on the role of the principle boy. In reality, pantomime has always been an evolving production, adjusting to the trends and fads of the day, but always keeping an eye on the traditions of pantomime, including: gender swaps, good battering evil and a rapturous group sing-a-long at the end of the show. Although some characters may come and go, for now the two cornerstones of this years show are the Fairy Godmother and Dame.
There is nothing like a dame, and in particular a pantomime dame. For years the pantomime dame, played mainly by a man, has been a dominate figure, maximising the role through outrageous dresses, extravagant expressions of emotions along with having some of the best lines in the show. When you learn that before the pantomime dame, the main role was taken by the harlequin and then the clown, such attributes make perfect sense that they should be the show stealers. However, the other main character vying for our attention in many of this years pantomimes is the fairy princess, (which traditionally is played by a woman) whose main weapon of mass “look at me look at me”, comes down to her super sweet attitude, a heart bigger than a shed load of care bears and customs so glittery that even Sindy would get glitter envy, Hey! What’s not to like?
These main characters continues dominate many pantomimes as there role is to act as the glue for the whole production, standing as they do between the goodies and the baddies and are given equal pegging in this years round upon pantomimes on show throughout out the south coast in the coming weeks.
This year we have a fair few familiar favourites popping up, including the most well known dame in panto-land, Widow Twankey, in Shoreham-by-Sea’s production of Aladdin. This particular dame first hit the stage in Convent Garden’s 1813 under the name Widow Ching Mustapha. Gradually the name evolved into the more familiar Widow Twanky, which itself comes from the Chinese province of Tuan Ky (or Twan Kay). her original role was as a taylor, but that role changed to a washer woman, given the charter lots of scope to get a bit messy with soap and suds, and one made popular in the past by many including, Les Dawson, Danny La Rue and John Iman.
Worthing are rolling out the Pantomime favourite, Jack and the Beanstalk, where the traditional dame is named, Dame Trot. way back when this dame was known as Dame Durden, Mrs Simpson and even Mrs Halleybutt, but in most productions the name Dame Trot is the one most used. Now, there are times when you think, do I really need to know this, but here goes. The word trot comes from the 18th-century slang word for vagina, which somehow or other then got turned to mean ‘old hag’. Don’t have a go at me, i’m just reporting the historical facts.
Close to the knuckle humour has always been part of the pantomime, allowing the adults to get into the fun, while such naughtiness goes over their siblings head. That is unless you are going to Brighton’s alternative pantomime, Cock Robin and his Very Merry Men, produced by the brilliant Brian Ralfe, (who has been producing Brighton’s Alternative Panto for the past 11 years), while Andrew Stark returns to writing/producer duties in this years pant. The other great thing about this particual production is you get Maid Marion played by Lee Tracy, a nurse (Phil Harlequeen) and Wesley Sebastian in the duel role of Fairy godmother and fortune teller. If you think you have grown out of pantomimes, this is one to get you back in the mood.
Elsewhere, Cinderella is playing in both Crawley, Working and Brighton. Crawley has Stephen Mulhern dominating all of the publicity, with little said about the supporting cast, and Working has the brilliant Dave Lynn and Miss Jason as the ugly sisters, while the Brighton’s version which, unusual for pantomimes, has a near all female cast in their production of Cinderella. In this production, as in the original Brother Grimm tale of the same name, it is the fairy godmother who steps into the role of the pantomime dame, although early pantomimes of Cinderella only had the wicked step mother and not the now traditional ugly sisters in place. According to Peter Lathan’s book, “It’s Behind You, The Story of Panto” the (un-ugly) sisters made their first appearance in Rossini’s opera, Le Cenerentola (1817) under the names Clorinda and Tisbe. Since then they have been a mainstay in the Cinderella story and are always known to the cast and crew as “The Uglies” with topical names of the time, which in the past have included, Pearl and Dean (1970’s cinema fans will get that one), Posh and Scary (girl power!) and most recently the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury has caused outrage by having their ugly sisters named, Beatrice and Eugenie… I wonder if those sisters will be wearing ‘that’ fascinator?
Back to the Brighton production at the Emporium their ugly sisters are names the less contentious names, Init and Thou (which the Brighton Writer rather likes!). Lucy Bundy, better known on the Brighton Fridge scene as Fake Bush, appears (in a flash of glitter perhaps?) as the Fairy Godmother at the Emporium, Brighton, Charlie Dimmock is appearing at the Worthing Theatre production of Jack and the Beanstalk as Fairy Organic (What is the betting that get’s mispronounced before the pantomime season is over?) Meanwhile over in Hastings, Sheila Reid, (aka ‘Madge’ in the ITV sitcom Benidorm), stars as Fairy Bowbells in the White Rock Theatre’s pantomime, Dick Whittington.