Thursday, 26 December 2013

"He's behind you!"

Boxing Day.  Here in England this is another holiday, although I know that in most countries  that is not the case.  The day acquired its name as this was the day on which the master of the house would present all the servants with their gifts, otherwise known as Christmas boxes.  Gifts (usually cash) left out by householders for public servants such as postmen and rubbish collectors are still called Christmas boxes.  Boxing Day is traditionally a day for sports - the local fox hunt used to meet when fox hunting was still legal, there are football matches etc etc.  I have it in mind that Boxing Day was at one time the day when the pantomime, another of our English traditions, opened at the theatre.   Nowadays, Boxing Day has taken on a likeness to the American Black Friday, although during the last few years the sales have started before Christmas instead of today.

But to get back to the pantomime.  This is something that seems never to have caught on elsewhere in the world - apart, that is, from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  I suppose it is rather peculiarly English and one really needs a sense of humour of a certain type in order to appreciate this form of theatre.

Pantomimes are generally performed over the Christmas and New Year period and there are certain basic principles.  They are family entertainment, especially aimed at children, so there is no smut - except in so-called "adult" pantomimes.  That doesn't mean there can be no doubles entendres, which are frequently used as these are thought not to be understood by children and provide some entertainment for the adult members of the audience.

Mention of the audience reminds me that audience participation is a must.  Children are encouraged to take part, usually in response to a request along the lines of, "Tell me if you see X", X being the villain.  The villain's entrance is the cue for the children to shout out, "He's behind you!"  There will often be a song with the words displayed on a screen for all to join in and it is not unusual for a few children to be invited onto the stage under some pretext or other.

There is usually only a vague plot, although most pantomimes are based on a handful of fairy stories - Cinderella, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk and among the most often performed.  Almost every pantomime will involve some slapstick humour somewhere along the line.

But possibly the oddest thing about pantomime is that the Principal Boy is always a young lady and her costume always shows off her attributes to advantage.  The female romantic lead is also played by a young lady while the comic lead is the dame, who is played by a man in drag.  There may well be a cow or horse in the cast, and this will be played by two people, one being the head and front legs, the other the body and hind legs.

As I said, pantomime probably does need an English sense of humour to be appreciated - rather like the English cricket team who have lost the current Ashes series in Australia.


Way back, many years ago, I was an adult leader in the Scouts.  Our District had a close relationship with Scouts in the Hague and one year a party of us went over early in December to see their Gang Show.  While I was there I bought a model crib, which has been on display every Christmas since.


joeh said...

Interesting history on the Theater, and a holiday which we thought involved padded gloves and a squared ring.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Boxing Day!

Brighton Pensioner said...

Thank you, sir - and all very best wishes to you and your kin for the remainder of the festive season.

Suldog said...

I've always thought a trip to a pantomime would be a lovely tradition, but it hasn't ever caught on here. Happy Boxing Day!