Text and Violence

The origins of pantomime are much darker than you'd think. Oh yes they are. Words: Steve Cramer

The ancient Romans kept their women on short leads. And so it was that Pantomimus, the actor after whom our Christmas theatre form was named, was blamed for all manner of lapses in female morality. His use of suggestive, exaggerated gesture was seen as a way of arousing far too much passion in the female population. His rendering of tragic myth had an effect not unlike combining Tom Jones circa 1968 with the Chippendales. And the menfolk didn’t like it. It got to such a pretty pass by the

time of Nero that the nothing on this Grimm piece of Empem.’ had two rural ultraviolence Pantomimus proteges, '

Cilicia and Bathyllus, put to

death, probably out of sheer jealousy. The history of sex and violence that is panto began here and continues, depending on how you read it, to this very day.

Wherever you are, descendants of Pantomimus will be playing near you and the original stories are still there under the text. Dick Whittington along with that notorious tale of child abuse Babes In The Wood both part of this year’s fare - are the only pantos whose origins reside on these islands. The story of the poor boy who makes friends with a cat is based on the true life of the four-times London mayor of the same name. Whittington was never poor, but very rich indeed and was a favourite of King Richard II, a

Texas Chainsaw Massacre has

Grant Stott with Debbie Boyd, who adds the pussy factor as Dick in the Edinburgh-set Dick Whittington at The Kings, Edinburgh

monarch oft noted for his fondness for Dick. We’re not sure exactly how he curried favour with King Richard, but we know that his close friend (we’ll never know how close) was particularly keen to reward him with his position in 1397. I can’t help reflecting that there’s a particular resonance to the audience’s chant of ‘He’s behind you’ in this panto. Whatever his early sexual preferences, he really did marry Alderman Fitzwarren’s daughter and his campaign to rid London of plague-bearing rats is surely where the cat comes in.

Those who read about The Boy Who Left Home in the last issue of The List will be aware of the insalubrious origins of Cinderella, who finishes up slaying her violent father as well as any number of innocent animals that come within her reach. But the more recent versions of the tale tell us a story of jealousy, sexual tension and growing adolescent desire. Like most pantos, this one delineates the rite of passage of a youngster to adult sexuality and

marriage. Surely the most hideously violent of all commonly

performed pantos is Hansel And Gretel. So ugly was the original version by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 that its content was toned down in 1857. The original contained few references to God and had clear pagan references to land fertility and the witch figure.

Stage whispers Re: Treading the boards

WELL, I HATE to say I told you so, but you heard it first in Whispers.

; The theatre community has been

knocked sideways by the announcement that the Scottish Arts Council's recent 19% increase in budget will increase the theatre’s budget by a parsimonious 5%. Even the Federation Of Scottish Theatre is now wondering if the new parliament is cutting back on its commitment to theatre funding because of its, supposedly separate, commitment to the National Theatre. Wonder no more, the

3 Scottish Executive is clearly robbing

Peter to pay Paul, or rather, a pauper to pay a prince. Wise up folks, one way or another, the money for this monolith is going to come from the smaller, younger and more creative companies. In the short term, perhaps there's time for the SAC to reverse this deplorable decision. For the sake of the theatre, we hope so.

ON A MORE optimistic note, the Arches is taking advantage of theatre funding While it still eXIsts. Its new initiative, the Arches Award For New Stage Directors will see the creation of three budgets of £2500 each, With additional marketing and technical support, as well as the aSSistance of seasoned profes5iona| directors in production. Emerging young directors have until Monday 1 1 December to apply, and should phone the Arches box office on 0141 221 9736 for details.

MEANWHILE, HAS EAST Lothian Council got the ’they’ve got a National Theatre now, what more do they want' bug? The funding for the Brunton Theatre is currently under review from the body, which is this fine theatre’s only substantial funder. We can only hope that the decision comes out well for the theatre, which has staged some splendid work over the past few

years. Watch this space.

AND JUST A qUick word about the RSAMD, whose students have produced a festival of new work under the title Into The New. Your chance to spot stars of the future Will occur at

the Arches from Wednesday

Unprotected by parents who leave them in the woods to starve, the children can't be far away from juvenile delinquency. When the old lady objects to them eating her house, as well she might, she finishes up in

the oven. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has nothing on '

this Grimm piece of rural ultraviolence.

These are but a few examples of this violent, sexualised form. Make sure you get the kids to at least one this Christmas.

See listings for panto details


lB—Saturday 16 December, over which time eleven new pieces Will be

Last year's Brunton production of Twelfth Night

30 Nov-14 Dec 2000 THE LIST 63