And lo, the columnist followed the star in the east until it rested over the OxStu website, and she saw that it was good. And an angel appeared in the sky, and said “The Lord thy Editor commandeth thee to write upon the pantomime!” But the columnist returneth unto the Angel “Yea, verily, but I have such a great set up for a nativity plays joke.” But the Angel said it was a joke much overused, and so the columnist began by another route.
Pantomimes. As we shuffle even further away from the twentieth century into an age of internet spoofs and lolcats, why is it that the panto remains a Christmas staple? Music hall is gone, unless watching Bruce Forsythe slowly decay onstage while Tess Daly tries to animate him by twisting the skin on his neck counts. We are the generation of TV Tropes, quick to point out if anything’s a little bit ‘nineties’, but the pantomime has been around for centuries now and it’s still the only kind of show that matters between November and February.
It’s in my contract to have an ‘Oh no it isn’t’ joke here.
Oh yes it is.
OH YES IT IS.
Even if it is groan-inducing, the pantomime owns the winter season if the Oxford theatres are anything to go by – if you want to go to a show in first week, good luck avoiding the family friendly fare. The last time I went to a professional panto I was about eight, and I remember laughing at a cat, so I assume it was Dick Whittington, though the story of a panto is really the least important aspect. I know, I wrote one once, and I still have no idea what story we picked. You go for Alan Carr, or the nearest equivalent, and the joy of seeing a man in a dress.
Maybe it’s because I went to an all-girls school for eleven years, or perhaps it’s Oxford’s spectacular affinity for drag, but a bit of gender bending doesn’t get me giggling like it used to. Oh, the sound of Nigel Pargetter from the Archers affecting a falsetto was always heart-warming, but it never packed a satirical punch. It was, however, great to hear his voice again in Radio 4’s own take on the panto form, away from the gaudy, seizure-inducing colour that I inevitably associate with pantomime. By paring it down to something simpler, though not necessarily any cleverer (Sandi Toksvig is a short Danish lesbian! LAUGH!), Radio 4 might have got me on board with the panto, but it’ll never get me onstage.
OH NO IT WON’T.