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Cross dressing, chaffing and Cinderella

Oh no it isn’t. Oh yes it is. If you thought it was behind you, you were very much mistaken. Pantomime season is back; familiar sing along songs, clapping, cheering, heckling and a ‘journey’ for all the family to enjoy. Nationally they dominate theatres for two months and now as the crisp winter air chills Bournemouth, families and friends rush inside the prestigious Pavilion to enjoy the delights of Cinderella with a celebrity filled cast.

“I feel too old for pantomime.” “Don’t be silly I am eighty three next year! I am older than you” two elderly women cackle behind me as they take their seats.

Pantomime dates further back than the middle ages and uses dance, music, humour and limp wristed mischief to provide entertainment for the audience. The audience participates in the show and supports either the goodies or the baddies following the slapstick adventure. The lead male character is traditionally played by a female often sporting a connoisseur moustache, whilst the males playing the ‘ugly step sisters’ are akin to a Beryl Cook caricature. Alongside these characters, the shows contain modern references and jokes reflecting the zeitgeist of today’s world.

Bouncing off the wall childrens squeals and screams reach unimaginable decibels. Parents mutter disapprovingly at their children. Teachers frantically gather their groups, “can you all keep the noise down please.” Whistles hang loosely around childrens necks. Flashing ears and light sabres create a sparkling display as children run in the foyer. Outside of the Pavilion cars swarm the car park, people rush frantically towards the building as the ticket kiosks work in overdrive. Ten minutes before show time. 6.50pm.

The decor and arrangement in the theatre is impressive, with solid white pillars supporting the building, red draping curtains, a bare stage with minimal props and a backdrop reading: once upon a time there was a poor girl who lived with her father who was kind but weak. The ceiling is overwhelming, a sight definitely not to be missed.  The high dome covering expresses splendour and elegance. A young girl no older than seven stares in awe at the mesmerising lights against the white washed walls. Pink hearts and twinkling stars illuminate the room. “Excuse me, can we get to our seats?” The rows continue to fill with people and excitement. Rustling wrappers and fidgety children become impatient whilst Michael Buble is played in the background.

“I love the fact pantomime regresses adults back to children. It brings the whole family together and it’s a local night out.” Parents still enjoy taking their children (or themselves) to pantomimes for the night. Cinderella managed to keep adults ‘alert’ and amused using a range of puns, innuendos and cultural references. “House prices are up” exclaims the father to the ugly stepsister. An elderly gentleman laughs behind me. Even the economic crisis had its five minutes of fame on stage, alongside an unexpected appearance by a certain Anne Widecombe, albeit an inflatable one.

“Oh Buttons, I love you as a friend.” Free sweets. Goody bags. Games on stage. After a two hour show the finale is truly magic. Oh yes it is. The audience applauds and cheers the ‘happy ending’ as Cinderella and Prince Charming marry and leave on real Shetland ponies. As the curtain drops the clapping and shouting fades to an inaudible murmur.

“It’s cheerful and uplifting and I love it. I was in the pantomime last year here, for Snow White. With only a few weeks to rehearse it was hard work but I love performing on stage”, says a glittery eyed dancer as she stands outside the dressing room in a puffy red ball gown.

“I loved the ‘colourful’ stepsisters” says a couple walking arm in arm. I wait patiently outside in the freezing cold at the backstage door. Time passes slowly and cars trickle out of the car park one after another. Muffled voices can be heard behind the closed door and in the blink of an eye Byron Mondahl walks past, looking plain and tired in comparison to the glitzy glamour queen on stage only an hour ago. “It has been amazing playing an ugly sister, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. We only had a week and a half to rehearse and then one week for technical rehearsals. Changing costumes so often throughout the night is very hectic.” Mondahl’s eyes glisten and he exhales a gentle sigh. “It has been so lovely being here in Bournemouth. I have managed to see glorious winter snow and clear blue skies during my time here. The celebrities in the show are so down to earth and supportive. Everyone has so many stories to tell and it has been a great pleasure being around these people.” Mondahl leaves in a yellow taxi whilst young dancers rush by to be collected by their parents.

Rushing around to the front of the Pavilion, small childlike voices can be heard. “Mum I am here”. The pavilion looks empty as the remainder of the crowd filters out into the car park.

A man in a khaki hat, coat and glasses walks down the entrance steps. I notice that it is the much loved CBeebies star Chris Jarvis. Despite the cold he willingly shares how he felt starring and directing in the show, “[It is] a very privileged job, you know, because we get to do a little bit of everything, work with amazing people and not just big stars but people who are setting out, who have so much [energy] to give. Every year it is always different. You learn from the pros and learn from the people who are full of life and setting out.” His eyes glisten as he speaks fondly of the energetic cast, reflecting serenely, “just as I am getting a bit older”. “A lot of people think the rehearsals are too long but I need that time to get my head around it…When you start from scratch you need all that time.”

Jarvis looks across the sea and reflects on the night’s performance. “It was a very small house; [the atmosphere] was a bit flat. But that’s not a problem as long as you look out and see smiles. It doesn’t really bother me I am a bit OCD, I’d rather they didn’t miss a laugh and laughed through the next gag…I don’t really mind if it’s a small house.” Looking directly into my eyes he exchanges a ‘knowing look’ of relief and gratitude that the night is coming to a close. “The figures are up on last year, and I think they are everywhere, nationally, which is brilliant considering we are in a recession. People are going to the theatre and I think that Southampton and Poole are also doing well.”

The references to Bournemouth and adult jokes made a naughty but entertaining show. Jarvis sniggers, winking, “Where there any? I am all innocent.” Oh yes he is.

Pantomimes are the perfect winter warmer and offer light hearted entertainment to the whole family. We all want a little bit of magic in our lives. A fairy godmother. A Prince Charming. Start counting your magic beans and discover what pantomime can do for you. Oh hang on; it is just for children right? Oh no it isn’t.

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  1. emmaeagle
    January 6, 2011 at 10:15 PM

    I love pantos and went along to the local theatre showing Aladdin.

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