Yesterday was panto day.
The temptation to say: ‘Oh no it wasn’t!’ is quite strong.
But I will resist.
We took all our infants to see Aladdin at De Montfort Hall in Leicester.
It is the first time for about fifteen years any of the large theatre spaces in Leicester has put on a panto. Usually Curve goes for a big musical number, and you can’t really take 100 children under seven to see Chicago, so we have to venture further afield. DMH usually tends to go for something like; ‘The Hollies sing Christmas’, despite the fact that it makes most of the population want to gouge their eyes out with a warm tea spoon, so it was quite novel for them to offer a traditional pantomime.
The children, on the whole, all seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, albeit in ways which do not always gel with the way you want them to enjoy themselves. They were, as ever, particularly enamoured of the big dance numbers (maybe we could take them to see Chicago next year on further reflection), particularly a lively rendition of ‘What Does The Fox Say?’ by a rather spherical lady genie. They are also remarkably knowledgeable with regard to Kanye West’s back catalogue, which was a surprise.
I do wonder though, having now sat through several school panto trips, why we take little children to pantomimes. They are so confusing for them. They are pretty confusing for adults at times, as the plots only ever bear the slightest trace of a resemblance to any story they claim to be like, and generally involve things like time machines, or killer dinosaurs, or in this case, a flying dragon – just to really set the cat among the pigeons.
It’s a bit like taking a bunch of aliens to a panto and expecting them to get all the cultural references, and understand all the bizarre traditions of panto, but without actually priming them beforehand.
Yesterday, one of the children was most indignant that this version of Aladdin didn’t have a flying carpet in it.
She spent large parts of the first half asking me when the flying carpet was going to arrive. In the second half she was totally unimpressed by Aladdin zooming about the stage on wires with a giant animatronic dragon, because she was still waiting for the flying carpet. Eventually, the genie of the ring, who had to magically transport Aladdin to Arabia said: ‘We can use my magic carpet.’ She settled back with a satisfied grin.
This went sour very quickly when the genie said: ‘No we can’t. I remember it was clamped on Melton Road.’ Cue no laughs from any children whatsoever and one indignant girl child who crossed her arms fiercely and muttered: ‘Well. That means NO magic carpet for me then.’
Clearly the Disney version was what she was expecting, and troupes of dancing girls, slap stick policemen and a teenager in a panda suit did not cut the mustard.
That’s before we get to the whole; ‘Why is Aladdin/Prince Charming etc really a girl Mrs. Wheatley?’ which gets whispered to me at least half a dozen times on every trip. Oddly, none of them really mind that the pantomime dame is always a man, which says a lot for the British psyche. And it’s not that they don’t know he’s a man. They totally do, but they just accept that it’s perfectly normal for a man to attire himself in fantastical drag outfits and parade about on a stage for several hours for the general edification of all.
They totally don’t get any of the jokes either, based as they are on word play and a mix of semi insulting local lore, which mostly flies over their heads.
They do enjoy the physical comedy though, and yesterday’s number which involved members of the cast running about with super soakers in the audience was a particular high point for the charges in my care.
The other thing that doesn’t help when you are trying to mix small children and pantomimes, is that they are incredibly long. The performance we went to yesterday was about two and a half hours in total, and a lot of the children would have been more than happy to go back to school at half time. They don’t worry that the plot is left wide open, because it’s not making that much sense anyway, and they’re all starving, so dinner seems much more exciting at that point.
There is a great market somewhere for a condensed, hour long panto for infants, which has all the winning ingredients of a traditional panto but which cuts the jokes and romance and just goes for high slapstick, blokes in frocks and a lot of chucking buckets of water on each other. Something with the Chuckle Brothers in probably, preferably in frocks.
The children were all very good though. I distinctly recall less toilet trips than last year and only one or two bouts of tears.
This year, instead of the usual biscuits, which teachers hand out in the interval, we had ice creams for all. This proved a particular highlight of the trip for many children.
I did enjoy my first ice cream, the one I took out of the wrapper myself, and ate completely to myself with no assistance from small people. Things went a bit downhill after the house lights had faded and the story recommenced. About every four minutes a small child seated near me would whisper urgently: ‘Mrs. Wheatley?’ or worse, tap me on the back with a sticky hand. What followed was: ‘I can’t finish my ice cream Mrs. Wheatley. I don’t want any more. What shall I do?’
I was trapped in a corner with no bin and no way of getting the already heavily melted ice cream anywhere before it puddled off the stick into my shoe, or shot down a small child’s neck. I ended up having to man up and eat a lot of half melted, well licked ice cream that I didn’t really want. I estimate I ate four ice creams to everyone else’s one, and felt exceedingly sick and sticky by the time we were due to get back on the bus.
I did think I might be the only person who actually needed the sick bucket on the half hour journey home on a rattly double decker that smelled enticingly of warm diesel fumes – but I held it together manfully.
Oh yes I did.