A few years ago, some very good friends of mine told me that over the Christmas holidays they had gone to see a production of "Cinderella" in Dublin. I admit with some embarrassment now that I razzed them unmercifully. What on earth would two grown adults find to attract them to a children's show? Eventually there was no more fun to be had in teasing them, and the matter was dropped.
Then by chance, I happened upon an online article about the British phenomenon of the Panto. Once again it was proved to me that even though we share a language, we don't always mean the same thing when we speak it.
The Panto is a holiday tradition that dates back to the 15th and 16th century traditions of Commedia del Arte. There are stock characters, which include the Pantomime Dame (always played by a man), the Principle Boy (played by a young woman), and the Comic Animal (we had a mermaid).
It takes a children's story or folk tale, and adds enough adult innuendo so Mum and Dad can chuckle indulgently while the off colour humor sails safely over the heads of the children. The costumes are colourful, the sets elaborate and the special effects plentiful.
Audience participation is key, and very much encouraged by the performers, who consistently break the theatrical "Fourth Wall" to speak directly to the crowd. The villain is booed and hissed when he enters, the hero is warned ("He's behind you!") and when someone makes a declarative statement, the audience will respond ("Oh, yes it is!" or "Oh, no it isn't!"). It's a good thing the rotten tomato stall next door to the theatre was closed.
I happened by the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin a few days before their Christmas Panto closed this year. As you might expect at the end of a 3 month run, there were tickets to be had, and I invited my Dublin friends to accompany me that evening to "Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates".
With the coaching of my friends, I hissed the villain and warned the hero with the rest of crowd . I haven't had so much fun at the theatre in quite a while!
I'm really hoping I'll be in Dublin before next year's holiday Panto closes. I'm hooked. :)