I have been having such fun in the past few weeks. It’s the pantomime season (oh yes it is!) and my local drama group is putting on a really good quality show. This year’s production, Old Mother Hubbard, is sold out across eight performances, and it’s been extra interesting for me because I’ve been providing the sound effects. Oh, the responsibility of making sure the horses’ hooves, swannee-whistles and ‘boing’ noises arrive on cue…you have no idea…
Thinking what to write about today I keep coming back to the pantomime, and wondering whether there is some interesting life lesson to be drawn from such a load of silly nonsense. There are the obvious observations, of course: the goodies always win, the baddies always get their come-uppance, characters can always find the energy for a quick song and dance even when everything is against them – you know the conventions. But as those of us who live in the real world know all too well, sometimes the good guys don’t get a happy outcome, and the baddies, in reality, quite often seem to ‘get away with it’.
So I thought I’d take a sideways look at the whole experience instead, and give you my view from the lighting gallery, where Lighting Engineer Andrew and I sit pressing buttons.
Andrew and I see lots of different versions of the pantomime (and I mean no disrespect to the terrific cast and stage crew here!). Sometimes that’s because of unpredictable audience participation (a small boy in the front row wanted arch baddy Matt Vinyl to shoot heroic Dandy the Dog last Saturday. Shocking!). Sometimes it’s because of a scenery or prop malfunction. Sometimes it’s because (sorry guys!) the dialogue gets a bit…umm…free-range, and when that happens it’s very entertaining to watch the cast work their way skilfully back to the right place.
And the wonderful thing about pantomime is that, unlike with Shakespeare, the audience doesn’t mind one bit when it all goes wrong. If anything the cast gets an even bigger laugh by ad-libbing around the mistake – we have now dropped in a deliberately mis-timed sound effect, just because it’s funnier that way. At the heart of everything is one Big Truth: Pantomime exists to amuse and entertain, and generous dames and villains honour that noble cause, even at the risk of losing their own dignity (or what little they may have!).
So what that leads me to think is this: however much in our own lives we try to follow a well-rehearsed script, at some point someone is going to feed us the wrong line, or knock over a prop, or trip us up. We then have to decide how to deal with that.
We could, metaphorically speaking, stand up in front of the audience, point accusingly at someone else and have a hissy fit – and that will never win us any friends. (BOO! HISS!). Or we could ignore the hiccup and with steely resolve take ourselves back to the last point where it was all going well, and soldier on from there.
Or we could do what all good pantomime dames do: look at what opportunities the situation has given us, and milk it for all it’s worth. You see, I reckon when life delivers us a missed cue, a pratfall or an unruly member of the audience, that’s when to get creative with the ad-libbing. And just like pantomime, you’ll be surprised at the unscripted laughs and outcomes that present themselves as you work towards your happy ending.