CALLA MOB IN ROBIN HOOD
A ‘I didn‘t go to pantomimes as a child. I saw Aladdin at 16 — I thought it was tey,’ says Simon Abbott, author of Robin Hood and the Towers oi Silence. Sybarite in her own terms, Calla Mor (Joyce Linklater) doesn’t so much eat people as steal sunlight, joy, light and laughter. Broadly speaking ‘It it’s warm and cheerful, grab it’ would be an approximate philosophy. It is all locked away, consistent with her killjoy designs. Reducing those lilter to be on her side to storm-loving depressives, Joyce Linklater finds the alienation and isolated aloolness, the icy coldness, what she warms to about the part.
'l‘m sorry to take so long finding this number' said the girl on the other end ofthe phone at the Citizens. ‘but I‘m dressed as a rabbit just now and its hard to look through this index with the paws.‘ l paused. A rapid glance to my own hands. ‘Sort of between technologies. is it'." I sympathised. It is indicative of a willingness to accept the conventions operating in the pantomime season that this gave rise to more concern over the theatre‘s filing system than any inclination to have rabbits on the staff. Although not always considered an appropriate study for inquring minds. the pantomime. as the popular vehicle for fantasy. fairy tale and the supernatural. has become assimilated and absorbed with an enthusiasm that borders perhaps as much on necessity as delight. A world of
reckless instability. it did not entirely commend itself to the Victorians. in whose hands it became grist to the moral will. Dipping into a truly nightmarish didacticism. one version begins ‘in the dark mists of lgnor- ance‘. envisaged as a vast inkstand. and goes on to specify stage direc- tions for ‘enter Auxillary Verbs‘. 'Algebra enters‘ and ‘Geography appears‘. It was a discom-
forting romp of the curriculum hardly guaranteed to do much for the enjoyment of the children or the image of ()uink.
Despite this digression. the fairy tale. and thereby the pantomime. has received the talented attention of artists and writers like Gustave. Dore. Arthur Rackham. David Hockney. Neil Jordan and Jean Cocteau to name but a few. This sort of interest is probably more consis- tent with their original impetus. that of the commonplace early folk story. A vast body of folk literature. re-surfacing later as almost every well-known pantomime, this became the object of studious research by the Brothers Grimm, an uncom- monly productive and complemen- tary partnership. of two brothers born in 1785 and 1786. They mined a rich and neglected seam ofcorporate beliefand colloquial identity in their faithful collecting and recording of local folk tales.
As Ruth Michaelis-Jena in her book The Brothers Grimm has pointed out. they steadfastly aimed to transcribe without embellishment or improvement what was to them the ‘debris of myths. primeval belief. religion. early customs and law.‘ Preferably writing them down straight from the story-teller. the brothers‘ respect for the tales inhe- rent value encompassed a belief that any tampering with them would be wrong. an approach in the early 19th century which was revolutionary. They ‘collected tales much as though they were running after butterﬂies. As a matter of fact, their first thought was to catch the tales while still alive . . an analogy not entirely inappropriate to the squirm- ingly vivid stories of the unexpec- tedly peculiar that almost wriggle with a life of their own. This insis- tence on accuracy and authenticity has secured a permanent place for the mean and the gruesome along
with the fantasy and magic. the fainthearted and the squeamish notwithstanding. No one today. you feel. as you pick up a Grimm fairly tale. in his — or his publisher‘s — rational mind. would conceive afresh. for children. some of the scenes which float up in Grimm like severed flotsam in a sea of fantasy. The decapitated heads of failed princes and red hot ovens in which people are roasted. all take their place in the Nursery and Household Tales of Grimm.
Seeping through pages and minds. the bloody however. is described not just without apology. but also without comment. Perhaps it is the straightforwardness of the telling. the sensational alongside the matter- of-fact. that accounts for the sang- froid acceptance of children. They cart recount with ease. and not a little glee. bloody accounts of head- rolling gore and people-changing horror which have adults reeling and heading for the bathroom. Watching a pantomime recently. with the grimmer side particularly in mind. I turned to the 8-year old beside me. ‘Who do you like best‘." I asked. ‘The baddie‘. she said, right on cue. sucking her choc-ice with relish. ‘Not frightened?‘ I ventured. She
shook her head with the assurance of
the eight-year old world view that
suggestible adults were perhaps best
left at home. The accommodatineg strong stomachs of the young can cope with witches and demons who. not troubled by the concern with conscience or convention them- selves. show all the early tendancies of the unspeakable in pursuit of the
uneatable. attempting the unrepeat-
able. This youthful acceptance is not so dissimilar. in fact. from the adult addiction to the uncompromising ‘badness‘ of JR. or Alexis of Dynasty. for whom the pantomime villain shows a strong early pro- totype. Indeed with a Joan Collins- esque Morgana le Fay at the Lyceum. Edinburgh. in Merlin the Magnificent. the concept has come full circle.
Any tale which begins along the lines of ‘One day when Jupiter was busily hurrying to and fro. he stop- ped short at the sight of an Arcadian maiden‘ implies and prepares for a coded scenario in which reason and
cause and effect are suspended. The .
world will be unreliably wayward and unnervineg strange. With pantomimes being grafted onto Christmas and Christmas being grafted onto a festival celebrating the persistence of life and renewal as winter darkens and deepens. the understanding is that in the drama of this season. a spiritual good will prevail and the morally fit survive. Amongst others. Marduk an early exponent of the principle in Me50potamia in 2000 BC. fought a yearly struggle with the monsters of chaos. Vanquishing them. he set a reliable precedent that Might is Right and. moreover. that eating people is wrong. But the dubious morality abounding in the pan- tomime formula. the happily mar- ried endings, the villains being ugly. the boy (though really girl) heroes. the women (really men) wimps. is
being challenged by some theatres
and becoming the subject of of professional rivalry and pride amongst them A 'Christmas Show‘ instead lets you off the conventional hook. to give more magic with less morality. Essential to the plot
the villain survives intact and all the actors I spoke to currently playing the villain in [Edinburgh and Glas- gow certainly relished their roles. giving as it does. a carte blanche for the dark side. ‘You go out and everyone hates you — its great‘ said Gary Coakley. who plays Scrooge in the Mitchell Youth Theatre‘s pro- duction of A Christmas Carol. in Glasgow. Last year his all-too convincing ‘Slygrinn the Mighty‘ in the rock pantomime zlwuplmpal- /()()b()]) Alumlmmlmmn had a wee lassie rushing from the auditorium. A seal of approval for one who remembers running out himself in tears during a pantomime perfor- mance he saw as a child.
The scope for power. and some- one over whom to wield it. is the essence of evil in pantomimes. Apprehended mainly in the familiar —— unlike. for example. a ghost which teases elusiver at all the senses but sight —— it gains an easy foothold on credibility and the magic when it comes. is the more invidious for being in the everyday. Usually represented as a concept pleased to assume human form. it exults and sulks. triumphs and dies with the best of them. Irrespective of the moral impetus. the evil it threatens is less likely to kill than to change. to transmogrify and trap. to frustrate the identity in non-identity. essentially a being denied.
Myles Rudge. writer of the Hansel and Gretel production at the Citi- zen‘s Theatre. Glasgow. was by his own admission constantly terrified by both Grimm. which he shunned. and pantomimes. which he loved Interestingly he has rewritten the story line according to ‘what I think the story ought to have been‘. but wooed into keeping a part for the frightening by his obser- vation of children‘s enthusiasm for being scared. something he noticed particularly whilst watching the Spielberg film Gremlins. llowever unlikely or inappropriate they seem. however Grimm. the early tales apparently have an organic integrity. an emotional efficiency. which recommends itself to the playwright and asks for a sufficiently evil character for the audience to respond to. A convention which requires a very pure evil. inevitably invites its opposite. enforces polarities. _ _
This way. and given a human form. evil is utterly crusha- ble. persishable. reliably bio-degrad- able.
The tendency to control is reached for no less by the villain than the storyteller. the playwright or direc- tor. Morever it is expected of them, desired even. like the longing for magic. The audience. if it goes along at all. is both captive and willing. It is rather like the peer John Betjeman’s ‘Church Mouse‘ complains of: He says he thinks there is no (Ind A In! yet he comes . . . . its rather add.
The List 13 Dec—9Jan9