The weather outside is dull and drizzly so it must be pantomime season, just the thing to chase away those winter blues. Panto is a centuries-old theatrical tradition which has evolved into a totally OTT cross-dressing, saucy song and dance piss-take loosely based on a fairy tale, fable or folklore. Kids love it and, for many, it’s their first taste of live theatre. Grown-ups love it too, catching the ripe gags that fly over the heads of the little ‘uns. Often a little bit naff, Panto is always great fun. And it’s profitable, keeping many a local theatre in the black for the rest of the year.
We’ve done two pantos this season – both versions of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. The first beanfeast was at the glorious London Palladium starring the incomparable Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Beans, brought up the rear by a host of top notch familiar faces. The Palladium gig is the annual headliner, panto-wise – getting the full-on West End treatment with no sequin spared. Julian stole every scene with one outrageous costume after another and all the best lines. It was a glorious belly-laugh of the lewd, the crude and the rude. All in the best possible taste – not.
The second interpretation, at the Fisher Theatre in nearby Bungay, was a more modest affair. It was surprisingly good; a few missteps, the odd fluffed line and an emergency stand in due to illness but that’s par for the course in amdram-land. None of that mattered, especially to the army of kiddies in the audience who lapped up every silly joke and every slapstick moment. Great fun for all the family in a cute local theatre with a fab little bar attached. Wonderful.
I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned Grimm tale. And if it comes triple-wrapped in high camp and topped with flying fairies, then I’m hooked. And they don’t come more camp or more soaring than Cinderella at the London Palladium. Panto’s not for everyone, I know. All that ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no, he isn’t’ slapstick leaves some people baffled. But only the truly sour would sniff at this lavish, no-holes-barred, gags and glitter extravaganza. I haven’t laughed so much in years. With the likes of Julian Clary and Lilly Savage in the cast, the hard core double-entendre was not for the faint hearted but there were no profanities among the lewdness – so that kept the mums and dads happy. Lilly was a tad under-powered so it was left to Julian to steal the show. Seeing him in leathers and feathers flying over the stalls on a Vespa was surreal. And the rest of the cast were pretty sparkling too. Amanda Holden can actually sing. Who knew? There’s something very winter-warming about this peculiarly British theatrical tradition. Oh no there isn’t. Oh yes there is!
Thank you to our very own fairy godmother for getting us to the ball. You’re a star.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Julian Clary. Britain has a glorious tradition of camp comedians tripping out bawdy innuendos with mincing aplomb – Larry Grayson, John Inman and Frankie Howerd to name but three – but Julian was the first to place his sexuality at the very heart of his act. Sexual ambiguity and suggestive salvos from the back of the closet are not Julian’s style. He slaps it on with a shovel, love it or hate it. The verdict from the predominately straight, middle class, middle aged audience at Norwich’s Theatre Royal was unanimous. They loved it. I’m glad to report that Blighty’s continued pre-occupation with the lewd, the rude and the crude is alive and giggling. We loved it too. Julian provided an unexpected bonus, a marriage proposal live on stage from audience member Samantha to her partner Bonny. A ‘yes’ from Bonny was rewarded with a lively ovation all round. Julian ended his glittering passage with a nod to his more thoughtful side by speak-singing “It’s not yet cool to be queer,” a moving political broadcast for those poor souls living in less tolerant parts of our rainbow world. Julian’s show does exactly what it says on the glittery tin. He may be a one-joke comic but, blimey, what a joke.