Monday, 29 January 2007

Behind you! And unto this humble blogger, there did befall a great honour. I was trying to grab a quiet hour by meself when the phone rang: could I come help backstage right now as they're one short, stage left? It has been panto week here. You dismiss it at your peril, particularly since this year's number, Cinderella, was written and directed by my son. You could get a nasty curse from the wicked witch. So I could hardly ignore his practical plea for the saturday matinee, by mobile some minutes after curtain-up. And indeed I got a buzz being in the wings (more in-the-way than of much use between scenes, I fear). The production (I witnessed a full rehearsal, two and a bit performances from the hall and one backstage) seems to have been pretty much an unqualified triumph. But who am I to say? Having experienced its evolution over several months, from the wings as it were, I'm going to have to unleash one more short stuttering monologue about community drama generally, and pantomime specifically. (I last hit this theme 12 months ago.) Community drama insists on the accommodation of the gormless and the gifted, the shaky and the sure. It welcomes those who are there for the social, those who have talent anyway, those who come cos he or she dragged them along, and those who don't know why they show up. Over several months, parts are re-written to match competence and emerging confidence. It's intergenerational, it tosses together the older assured voices and the uncertain young ones. Dances are worked and re-worked, lines learned and forgotten and changed; scenes blur, separate, find consensus. Technicians come in and fiddle endlessly with lights and mikes, someone sources the costumes and props, someone quietly paints the scenery amid rehearsal mayhem, a man is up the ladder sorting the drapes, there's publicity to do and tickets and programmes. Musicians are found, magic is worked. You can take your song home, and work on your lines in the privacy of your bathroom, but teamwork permeates everything. This is essentially a huge collective local endeavour. I sometimes think that we should scrap school education and just get people doing community projects like this: for young people at least, it's about as educational (in my definition) as it gets. And pantomime leaves no space for competitiveness or nasty prejudices. It gives people a familiar framework for behaving quite outside themselves. They do so initially in a social context (twice a week, through the winter, since you ask) and then ultimately publicly (five performances here, each wilder than the previous). Pantomime facilitates modest creativity and a confident rapport with family and friends in the audience - oh yes it does! - and temporarily legitimates marvellously childish behaviour among adults. And we should not overlook the fact that it allows young people, in audience and on stage, to behave childishly too: for some, I suspect, that is a stressfully rare luxury. And if you're trying to interpret...

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