For those of you unfamiliar with this high-water mark of our cultural firmament, it is in fact a kind of play, loosely based around a traditional fairy story such as Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella in which key ingredients include men dressed as unattractive over-made up women, a snarling, hyper-ventilating villain and two people – usually the more junior members of the company – dressed as a cow.
The wafer thin plot is packed with ribald, topical humour and the whole, rowdy experience is defined by the constant interaction between the principals and the audience. In this, the panto has much more in common with Shakespeare than with the more chin-stroking earnest playwrights of the last 2 centuries, the constant gurning* and asides to the braying crowd being very Elizabethan.
Had Chekov’s Misha wandered on to the stage at Barnstaple’s Queens Theatre last Saturday her lament that she was “in mourning for her life” would have been greeted with a spirited riposte of “Oh no you’re not!”, to which she would have replied, no doubt shaken from her reverie, “Oh yes I am!”, the crowd right back at her with another “Oh no you’re not!” and so on.
It was interesting to note that the key players in the show were moonlighting from jobs in shows at some of the UK’s major theme parks. Working the crowds is a vital skill in both environments and so panto is perhaps a natural home for a park’s cast members while the parks are closed midwinter.
Unbridled optimism has been the order of the day in the Middle East these last few years, and it will be interesting to see how the region copes with the current crises in the financial sector in ‘09.
With a number of major projects seemingly stalling, some of the more positive assessments to come out of the area have seemed like that of one famous German General in the First World War: “I am not retreating, I am just advancing in a different direction”. Will this just be a blip in the continued development of Dubai, or a more serious setback? Will Abu Dhabi, which with more money is seemingly less at risk, become the focal point in the region? Certainly the recent Six Flags agreement for the park in Qatar (see: Six Flags signs Qatar accord ) was a welcome piece of news in a period of bleak news in the markets and indications that the Gulf states were not immune to the problems afflicting both Asia and the West.
(* Another peculiarly British pastime : the deliberate pulling of grotesque facial expressions)
Amusement Parks: Will Dubai be the new Orlando? Will Abu Dhabi be the new Dubai?