Arguing the opposite from Sophie Tooley (read her article here), Milly Hindle uses her personal experiences to condemn the traditional Christmas panto.
Having been in several pantomimes as a child, I can see now that they weren’t exactly the debut into thespian fame that I might have hoped for. Every year was the same: an amalgamation of seven-year-old show-offs, the reluctant offspring of pushy parents and a few normal kids who got bored of endless TV and computer games as the holidays wore on.
We were all squashed together into something called a ‘chorus’ and dumped onto the stage to form a vaguely interesting backdrop for the main action. Having stood stage left for the first five minutes, gazing demurely at the adoring audience, we were soon fidgeting with our hand-me-down costumes and slumping against a garish mural that probably wasn’t going to hold the weight of several bodies, no matter how small. This would soon merit the sharp hiss of a stressy, middle-aged woman, trying to make up for her careerless existence by terming herself ‘stage manager’ for the week of the show.
The lights would eventually dim and we would be hauled off the stage and out of the way, constantly shushed and steered into the wings, where we couldn’t cause trouble. Misery to he who dawdled in the hope of claiming the spotlight for a few seconds: this soon merited a not-so-affectionate trampling on by the older cast members, marching through the clutter of kiddies like the un-parted Red Sea.
Now for some reason, this wasn’t enough to put me off, as I came back year upon year to claim my whole square centimetre of stage space. The problem was, so did everybody else. The final number and the curtain call was a logistical nightmare, with too many bodies to fit on the stage creating a rather precarious human Tetris. Had we all stayed still and held our breath, we might have survived the applause and even managed to disentangle ourselves from sweaty armpits and perspiring face-paint. But no, the director had decided that we should all take a step to the right to bow, to ‘create a nice aesthetic’. Too young to pipe up with intelligent enquiries regarding risk assessments, I ignorantly followed these instructions… and promptly launched myself straight off the stage.
After that, it’s safe to say, I participated in pantomimes no more.
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