He’s behind you!

14th December

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Cinderella at the Wyvern Theatre 

Cinderella at the wyvern in swindon

Sat 10th December 2016-Sunday 8th January 2017

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A rags to riches story

10 days to Christmas, a theatre full of excited children and the exclamation ‘He’s behind you!’ can mean only one thing: the panto season is in full swing!

 

Barring perhaps an odd amatuer production, I can’t have been to the panto since I was a child. And that dear listeners is a long time ago!  So an opportunity to check out this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, at our very own Wyvern theatre was most welcome.  A fab, fun and festive thing to do before I go down to my daughter’s for the Christmas season I thought.

And indeed it was.

On the Wyvern website the panto is described thus: ‘you are guaranteed lots of laugh-out-loud comedy, spectacular sets and costumes, dazzling song and dance routines and fun for all the family.

Plus, as audiences have come to expect from Swindon’s number one entertainment venue, there will be an abundance of audience participation!’  

Well that was for sure!

All the traditional elements were present: the pantomime dames – in this case the ugly sisters, cheering at the fairy godmother, booing and hissing at the villain, the ritual humiliation of a poor, beleaguered audience member, singing and dancing, a little slapstick, and, of course, audience participation and topical jokes – ‘Brexit stage left’ being my favourite.

Oh – and balls.  A new one on me is that. And if you want to know what I’m talking about go and see it.

Hang on – I almost forgot – to get everyone cooing there was a cute white pony pulling Cinderella’s coach! Personally though I had my eyes on Dandini’s gold boots! I NEED those in my life. Well slap my thighs!

On the subject of tradition though, one thing I do miss is that of the principal boys being played by girls. That tradition started to change in the 195os and 1960s when pop stars and actors started to take those roles ( see history of pantomime below). Nowadays, as with this one, it seems often to be soap stars.

But still, the tradition of panto is alive and well, which is rather wonderful. And it’s one that’s reinvented itself over the years so there’s a chance that the art form will one day revert to women playing the principal boys again. I do hope so!

Cinderella runs at the Wyvern until Sun 8th January 2017 so you’ve got plenty of time to join in this slice of theatre history before the clock chimes midnight and you turn into a pumpkin. 

NOTE: The 1pm and 7pm performances on Sat 17 December will be Sign Interpreted. For more information, please contact the Ticket Office on 01793 524481.

A brief history of pantomime

So how did this eccentric and very British theatre tradition begin?

In Italy as it happens. Or at least in a type of travelling Italian Street theatre known as Commedia dell’arte which pitched up here in the 16th century. From then, as this article from the Victoria and Albert museum explains, it developed into the festive entertainment we still know and love in the 21st century. Which is rather fab if you think about it.

The Commedia dell’arte featured a cast of mischievous characters.

“Harlequin was the quick-witted miscreant who carried a magic bat, wore a mask and dressed in clothes made of patches. During the 17th century, Harlequin and his companions, including Scaramouche, Pantaloon, Pierrot, Punch and love-interest Columbine were improvising comic stories, singing, dancing and cavorting their way across Europe.

By the early 18th century, Commedia characters began to appear on the London stage in early pantomimes which were based on classical stories, set to music but without speech.”

Like so many things this is a long and complicated story and you can read more of it here: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/victorian-pantomime

The Principal of the thing

But what of the principal boy/girl? How did that come about? Let’s do some wobbly wobbly timey wimey stuff and go back to the 18th century when the tradition of women dressing as men began.

According to ‘It’s behind you’

‘Women had for a long time played the “breeches role” in theatre, as far back as the early 1800’s. By the middle of the nineteenth century the vogue for ladies to take on the heroic roles of “Jack” or “Dick Whittington” or “Aladdin” was beginning, and with the rise of Music Hall it became the rule. Quite simply, the Victorian male, living in a society where even the legs of the parlour piano were covered for modesty’s sake , craved the vision of a well turned calf, or shapely ankle.

Whilst ladies were corseted, crinolined or bustled on the street, artistic license allowed ladies upon the stage to wear costumes that revealed shapely legs in tights on condition that they were playing a male role!’

So this tradition arose to give Victorian manhood a cheap thrill it seems. Hmmm.

There’s nothing like a dame

‘The Pantomime Dame, usually the hero’s mother, such as Widow Twankey in “Aladdin” or “Dame Trott” in Jack and the Beanstalk was a creation that emerged from the early Music Halls of the Victorian era. The public warmed to seeing their favourite comedian playing the role of Jack’s mother, or the King’s cook and bottlewasher. Often the Dame’s costumes would be used to good comic effect by parodying the fashions of the day, in much the same way as the modern Dame or Ugly Sister does at the moment.’

Read the full story here: http://www.its-behind-you.com/Factsheets/The%20History%20of%20Pantomime.pdf

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