The Christmas panto has been part of our history for a long long time, and for a lot of you, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it!
We're getting into the festive spirit with an amazing COMPETITION! We're giving away a pair of tickets to see Jack And The Beanstalk at the Lyric, Hammersmith (29 December - 5 January)! Find out how to enter at the bottom of this article!
The pantomime was influenced by the 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte, a form of theatre characterized by masked “types” – played out by actors who had perfected a specific role or mask. Other Western cultural influences include 17th-century masque, a form of courtly entertainment involving singing, dancing and elaborate stage design. Picking up some customs along the way, the panto has become a British Christmas and New Year staple.
Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why we love a panto so!
1. They’re family friendly
You can bring along your baby cousin, your wee sister and your gran and they’ll all be happy. On top of this, your mum can be safe in the knowledge that any innuendo is covered up as a double entendre that goes straight over children’s heads!
2. You get to join in
Because who doesn’t love shouting “He’s behind you!” followed by a reply of “Oh, yes he is!” before another “Oh, no he isn’t”! Even if it does go on for a little too long…! You can also get ready to “boo” your hardest at the villain and give out all your sympathy in an “awww” for the rejected Dame!
3. There’s slapstick comedy
Whatever the performance, you can bet on some slapstick comedy involving throwing around lots of messy substances and lots of falling over! There’s also a lot of topical humour and this often relates to the local area so you can feel like the performance has been specially tailored to you!
4. The lead male is played by a girl
We’re all for gender swapping actors, and the fact that a male part is played by a woman is a great twist and now a real panto tradition. It’s also custom for the pantomime dame to be played by a man in drag!
5. The celebrity guests
If you’re lucky, your panto may guest star a celebrity! This is a tradition that dates back to the 19th century and was started by Augustus Harris at the Theatre Royal on Dury Lane who hired well-known variety artists for his pantomime. So look out, your local hero might be at your next panto!
COMPETITION: To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to see Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyric, Hammersmith (29 December - 5 January) just answer this question:
In the classic Panto Jack and the Beanstalk, what does Jack swap for magic beans?
Send your answer to email@example.com The deadline is 6pm on Friday 20 December, 2013!
We spoke to theatre director Lucy Kerbel about her brilliant new book 100 Great Plays for Women.
Women buy the majority of theatre tickets, make up half the acting profession, and are often the largest cohort of any youth theatre or drama club – yet they have traditionally been underrepresented on stage. 100 Great Plays for Women seeks to address this gap by celebrating the wealth of drama available for women to perform.
Lucy is the Director of Tonic Theatre – created in 2011 as a way of supporting greater gender equality within the theatre industry. 100 Great Plays for Women is an absolutely fantastic, and sadly necessary, read for anyone interested in theatre and performance. Lucy’s list includes classics such as Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler as well as some masterpieces from the likes of Sarah Kane, Tracy Letts and April De Angelis.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into theatre.
I went to the Brit School in Croydon when I was 16, which was a really amazing experience. It meant that I was able to work on theatre productions rather than just studying drama from an academic perspective. I did a vocational course in stage management, technical theatre, and set and costume. I thought I wanted to be a costume designer, but that was because I loved art and drama and that was the only way I could see the two connecting. I didn’t really realise there was such a thing as ‘directing’. I then went to Royal Holloway where I got a degree in Drama and Theatre Studies – I also got a First! I went to university as an opportunity to be close to London I was able to do some directing so when I finished my degree I had some directing experience under my belt.
When did you notice a gender inequality in the theatre industry?
I think I’ve always been a little aware. I remember being back in primary school and I got really cross at the Christmas show because there was only one role for girls and all the other roles were for boys. I remember complaining to the teachers, telling them it wasn’t fair. With the industry, I’d look at who was on stage, who was directing at the big theatres, whose plays were being performed. Coming out of university I was aware of it but I was reconciled to it at the same time. I found it disappointing, but I thought that’s just how it was. I didn’t really think about changing it or whether there was any space to change it. At the time, when I was 21, I just assumed that the problems would be sorted out. But, ten years down the line the problems still exist so there needs to be some sort of intervention. A catalyst. There is progress happening, but it’s happening at an incredibly slow pace.
How did you begin the research for the book?
There wasn’t really any structure. I point out in the introduction of the book that it’s certainly not a definitive work. The plays I’ve included are 100 plays that I really like and they encompass a range of genres and periods. I set myself a task: if I find a play that has more women in it than men then I have to read it. I looked all over the place. I started the research in the National Theatre’s script library, where there are walls and walls of plays! I used libraries in drama schools and universities. I spoke to a load of directors and literary managers and actors and writers, explaining what the project was and they were eager to help. I was based in New York for a while too, so I went to the New York Performing Arts Library, which brought up a few US plays from writers that we don’t really know about here in the UK.
Was there a definitive moment when you realised this book needed to be written?
The idea to make it into a book was made by Purni Morell, who used to run the National Theatre Studios and is now Artistic Director of the Unicorn Theatre – she was head of the NT studio when I approached them about ideas for mainly female casts. I thought we would create an online database or maybe a list that we’d give out to theatres. The idea came about mainly for Youth Theatres and drama teachers in schools. These places tend to be very female heavy in terms of participation and there’s a lack of awareness for suitable plays to perform and study. I like the idea of the permanence of a book and making it accessible for more people. It soon became clear that there’s loads of material out there and a simple list wouldn’t do.
What do you think the issue is in regards to plays with female casts not getting performed?
I think it’s a range of things. The canon of work we currently have is very male-based. It’s very white and middle class. We have a situation at the moment where if you look at what we as a society consider ‘great art’ – the works in our big institutions like the National Gallery, National Theatre or the Royal Opera House – more often than not, the people getting their work displayed are white, able-bodied, middle-class men. The majority of people in this country do not fit that profile yet we have this perception of what ‘greatness’ is. It’s starting to break down, but it’s taking the Arts time to catch up. I think it’s partly about our canon, the plays we study at school, the plays we’re encouraged to see at school or perform at school. Also, there has traditionally been nervousness about putting women’s stories on show. There’s a fear that they won’t sell tickets but I hope this is changing. I think that TV drama is leading the way particularly in the last couple of years. There has been an explosion of high-quality dramas that put female stories centre stage – whether that’s The Killing, The Hour, Homeland, Silk, even Scott & Bailey. These are shows that are very popular with huge ratings. I just hope Theatre can catch up.
Interestingly, we did a platform at the National Theatre last week for the book that completely sold out. So for me, that was important because it shows that there is definitely an audience out there for work about women.
What do you think the next step would be for achieving gender equality, particularly in relation to youth theatre?
I think there’s a real need for there to be an equal level of opportunity. Tonic Theatre did a huge research project on it last year. We found that a lot of boys participating in youth theatre are afraid of bullying – schools aren’t always supportive of boys doing performing arts. This is such a shame, as a lot of talented boys are not feeling able to take part. There’s a real responsibility on behalf on Youth Theatre to ensure that girls are given just as much opportunity and it’s not taken for granted that girls will just cheerfully get on with things. When I was doing the research we did focus groups with sets of boys and sets of girls. I asked the boys what would happen if they wouldn’t get a part they wanted and they were really proactive about it. If they didn’t get the role they would ask the director why they were unsuccessful or even leave the company! It was as if there was a sense of entitlement. I’d ask the girls the same question and what was interesting was that girls would all agree and say, ‘You have to be grateful, even if you’ve only got one line’. There was such a marked difference between expectations of what they deserved and what they’re entitled to. The girls felt entitled to pick the crumbs up on the floor. There’s a real disparity there. It’s a cause for concern for all young people, not just for those who want a career in the Performing Arts. It may play a part in other areas of life, be it in a job interview or in a relationship. If you’re expecting a lot and you feel you deserve a lot then it affects your thought process.
What advice would you give to our young people about getting into the industry?
Try to find your own route through. There will be a lot of people trying to change your mind about the type of work you should be doing. But if there’s work that you want to make then you should make it. If you want to work somewhere, then work there. It’s finding your own structures and pathways. In many respects, like the rest of society, we’re on the cusp of real change. The way we’ve been working perhaps won’t be that way for much longer. There’s real space for pioneers. If you got good ideas about how you want to make your work, go ahead and do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one way of doing things.
And finally, what’s your favourite musical?
We want to say a huge thank you to Lucy for talking with us and we wish her the best of luck with her brilliant book!
100 Great Plays for Women is published by Nick Hern Books and available to buy now! For a limited time YMTers can get 25% off their purchase when using the voucher code ‘YMT25%OFFER’ in the checkout box. Offer is valid until 31 December, 2013. Go to www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/100-great-plays-for-women
**** (4 Stars)
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York - Wednesday 27 November, 2013
The Joseph Rowntree Theatre is a lovely little theatre in York that provides a venue for amateur and professional theatre groups. A Christmas Carol: The Musical is a production based on Charles Dickens' novel and adapted by a local York theatre group called We Are Theatre. They believe in giving everyone, including people with disabilities, the opportunity to perform and matching the performance to the character. This is highlighted in the programme as they point out that the 19-year-old playing the old Scrooge is younger than the teenage Scrooge! A fact that is very difficult to believe as the costume, make-up and ability of the actors are fantastic.
The musical is advertised as a family adventure and the audience was certainly full of family - mostly family and friends, which made for a very appreciative and jolly atmosphere. The cast overall is faultless but there were a couple of technical issues with the microphones (but for a first night that can be overlooked and overcome).
There are some stand-out soloists with wonderful voices. The main character of Scrooge played by Harry Revell is amazing. The young 8-year-old Maggie Wakeling playing the Ghost of Christmas Past has a stunning, powerful voice.
There are lovely harmonies and duets and the cast all have strong singing voices. Theo Tattershall playing Fred has some complicated dialogue which he delivers confidently. The directors are to be congratulated on the casting as the whole cast seem to really enjoy their roles.
The stage direction is very clever and involves members of the cast walking, dancing and singing through the auditorium giving out sweets at the beginning and mince pies at the end and freaking out the audience with visits from zombie ghosts!
The musical is thoroughly enjoyable and a great start to the festive season.
***** (5 Stars)
Gielgud Theatre - Monday 18 November, 2013
"Two strangers. One conversation. The perfect murder."
These are the words that welcome you into Strangers On A Train at the Gielgud Theatre. The level of intrigue created in Patricia Highsmith's novel and the 1951 Hitchcock film is truly reflected in this astonishing production directed by Robert Allan Ackerman.
When Guy Haines meets the enthusiastic Charles Bruno, little does he know that their destinies will become intertwined. A chance encounter leading to a murderous plot that Haines has no escape from, and that has dramatic consequences shaping both their lives.
Laurence Fox (Haines) and Jack Huston (Bruno) share a startling partnership. Huston is mesmerising as the eccentric Bruno, an emotionally exhausting character maintained throughout the play. Fox is predictable and fairly laboured at first, but his role develops and grows, culminating in an emotional climax. Brilliant from both actors.
The relationship between Haines and his fiancée, Anne, (played beautifully by Miranda Raison) is highly believable, and Raison's depiction of Anne is effortless, an anchor to Fox's character, and a role executed with ease. This contrasts heavily with Miriam, the adulterous ex-wife depicted by Myanna Buring, who captures Miriam's strong, independent attitude in a fine performance.
The sinister, somewhat sexual, intimacy between Bruno and his alcoholic mother Elsie (Imogen Stubbs) produces an uncomfortable atmosphere for the audience. Elsie is very Blanche Dubois: a faded beauty with a past, and Stubbs' communicates this excellently.
Ackerman's direction subtly adds Hitchcock elements within the play. Opening to a train carriage with two chorus members dressed in coats and fedora hats, whilst overhead a seedy, atmospheric musical score can be heard, immediately places the audience in the film director's world. These stylish elements from both Ackerman and Avgoustos Psillas' sound design are a regular occurrence throughout - and something to be admired.
What makes Strangers On A Train so stylistic and unique is the extraordinary set, and this is no surprise due to the hugely experienced West End designer, Tim Goodchild. The remarkable set design represents the film noir genre that this play originates, with everything in perfect black and white: from the exquisite 50s outfits (designed by Dona Granata), to the highly-detailed set. The revolving stage keeps the pace constant with quick scene transitions, not allowing the audience to lose focus. It simply is a visual masterpiece.
The entire two and a half hours transports the audience to the grey classic cinematic world of Hitchcock, incorporating laughter, drama, and murder. Strangers On A Train takes you on a first-class journey.
Strangers On A Train is currently playing at the Gielgud Theatre, London until 22 February. Get your tickets here: http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/StrangersOnATrain/StrangersOnATrain.asp
** (2 Stars)
Watford Palace Theatre - Tuesday 19 November, 2013
Written by Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts tells the story of a dysfunctional family affected by the immoral behaviour of the now-dead father and husband, which continues to have consequences for the son, his mother and the maid. The Pastor is supposed to provide advice and comfort, but due to his naivety and vanity, is shown to be weak and gullible. The play focuses on the darker side of family life, society and the church and tackles unfaithfulness and the result of this in both physical and emotional terms.
There are secrets revealed and lives are changed forever. Act One is very long and requires a lot of concentration but Act Two, by contrast, is very short. In spite of the spectacular ending, there are a lot of unanswered question.
The cast of five work well together and present believable characters. Kelly Hunter, as Mrs Alving is particularly strong and Mark Quartley plays a very convincing Oswald. Pip Donaghy, as Jacob Engstrand provides some comic moments and Patrick Drury, as Pastor Manders is fallible even if he does not see it. Florence Hall, as Regina, is also good.
The set design is effective, although unrelenting, and it certainly adds to the brooding atmosphere of despair and darkness. The costumes, especially Mrs Alving's, are true to the era (1880s) whilst showing a hint of glamour and wealth. At times, the dark set is distracting and can make concentration on the plot harder.
There was a mixed demographic watching the play, with a bulk of the audience school students - perhaps studying the play. Sadly, the action is often hard to follow and does not translate well to a younger audience.
The English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre, Kingston's Ghosts played at the Watford Palace Theatre from the 19 - 23 November.