I love Christmas and the tradition that swirls around this holiday like a warm, woolen scarf knitted by my grandmother. I love wrapping each gift with precision and topping it with a perfect bow. I love ceremoniously opening boxes of ornaments and hanging each one with care on the tree while sipping champagne from a flute adorned with a reindeer charm. And the music—I love the music.
So, it was with delight that I found myself in Bath, England on a holiday getaway with my husband, Larry, looking at a brochure for Carols by Candlelight at the exclusive Pump Room. It sounded perfect—an evening listening to carols surrounded by the neoclassic brilliance of the salon a glow in candlelight.
Unfortunately, several other people thought it sounded perfect too. It was sold out. Sensing our disappointment, the polite man at the ticket office gently steered us in the direction of the Theatre Royal.
“They have panto tonight,” he said. “It’s a holiday tradition.”
Tradition? Hmmm … I was intrigued.
Larry and I bought two tickets for the pantomime, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, and went into the theatre. The scene inside was like the Mad Hatter’s tea party. I glanced again at my ticket stub to confirm I was at a reputable theatre and not some kind of carnival fun house. As we made our way to our seats, my husband and I were pushed to one side of the aisle by two young lads wearing pirate hats and jousting at one another with glow sticks. Lunging back and forth, hooting and hollering, they put Johnny Depp’s performance of Jack Sparrow to shame.
A little, blonde girl, wearing pink tights, a plaid skirt and a pink paisley top, wore a broad smile on her face as she followed her parents to their seats, hot-pink antennae blinking from atop her head. Pint-sized patrons streamed down the aisles bedecked in holiday finery of every color imaginable. And they all had lights. Glow sticks glistened from the clutches of little hands. Brightly colored antennae balls bobbed on the heads of girls giggling in small huddles while other children proudly waved twinkling wands in the air like searchlights sweeping the sky on opening night.
And these were just the audience members.
I knew right then and there that we were in for theatre of a different kind. This was theatre of the absurd, or known better as Pantomime.
Pantomime, the annual English tradition performed in theatres throughout Britain, is as much an ingredient to the holidays as Christmas pudding and every bit as colorful and sweet. Pantos are wildly, zany productions of folk tales with large doses of slapstick, double entendre and modern, political satire thrown in.
Once we found our seats, there we sat, a childless couple, amidst a sea of families under complete control by children. This was their night—a holiday tradition for children.
Now, I should tell you that my husband and I have a pact when we attend any live, theatrical performance. We call it the “half-time rule.” If for any reason, one of us wants to leave at intermission, we go. No questions asked. We’ve only acted on this once and it was an unanimous decision. I was certain tonight would be our second occasion.
But within minutes of the curtain going up, we were swept up in all the silliness. We booed and hissed aloud at the Sheriff of Nottingham and cheered for Robin Hood and Maid Marion. We joined in the sing-a-long—“Have you ever, ever, ever in your long-legged life seen a long-legged sheriff with a long-legged wife?”
And when we weren’t sure what we were supposed to be doing, we took our cue from the children around us. They proudly beat the actors on stage to their lines and anticipated every pratfall as if they were veterans of the theatre coaching the rookie cast members.
The production was classic pantomime, complete with the role of Robin Hood played by a woman. Picture Robin Hood not only in tights but hot pants too. The principal female role, Nurse Nellie, was played by a stocky, older, male actor in nurse’s drag and bright, red lipstick.
At intermission, not only did Larry and I both want to stay, but I ducked out to the lobby to buy a pair of hot pink, blinking antennae.
At the end of the performance, I realized the pantomime had cast a Peter Pan-like spell on me and I wasn’t ready to desert my inner child yet. I proudly perched my antennae on my head as my apprehensive husband and I walked back to our hotel. As we passed a pub, I heard a tap on the window from inside and turned to see a table of young adults giving me the thumbs up.
Who said Pantomime is a holiday tradition just for children?