Calling an election during the Pantomime season was bound to create a media storm at some point, a clash of two similar cultures you might think.
Last week I found myself sitting between Piers Morgan and Toby Young on Good Morning Britain. Between them they’d contrived that the panto I’d written was somehow a left-leaning, PC-driven propaganda piece for the climate change movement. After some gentle banter about my time the very same studio as a fledgling Blue Peter presenter they accused me of taking all the fun out of Pantomime with my political correctness. I tried to point out I was in fact doing the opposite that by having a Stormzy singing giant (‘I’m too big for my boots’) and a carbon neutral cottage made out of old toilet rolls I was gently sending up the climate movement. No way said Toby, it was a left wing conspiracy by teachers to fill the theatre with innocent children. Piers wanted to win an argument he himself had invented. It was like being an extra in a scene from Jurassic Park, where two raptors hone in on their prey. Fortunately, I wasn’t eaten.
The truth is of course that Jack and the Beanstalk (on at the Lighthouse, Poole) is a contemporary, populist pantomime that just so happens to include a gas-guzzling giant, who is made of plastic (Urgh, let’s recycle him) and a smelly cow called Buttercup (Phew, more methane emissions than a gas-fired power station) and a Dame who happens to have a wind turbine made out of some sticky back plastic. (Plastic, Urgh) You get the drift. Greta Thunberg (played by a local Dorset girl) also makes a fleeting appearance before the Giant threatens to put her in a pie.
Pantomimes have always been about contemporary events and local issues, always mocking the politicians and notables of their day. Grimaldi, the most celebrated funny man of the 18th century was once in a show at Sadler’s Wells where they diverted the local river through the theatre to re-enact the Battle of Waterloo. Dan Leno, the great Dame was forever joshing the posh elite in his Drury Lane panto’s. The King even wrote to congratulate him.
There was no social media then. Now when you appear on television unpleasant trolls and Russian bots turn on you and endorse the ramblings of their political masters. It’s a maze of misinformation.
When I was a child I would watch my theatrical parents perform in pantomimes. They were spectacular with special effects that would make you gasp even today. I was the ‘stooge’ in my father’s song sheet, always innocent and never letting on that my dad was the funny man.
So, come the opening night on December 12th – which also happens to be the day of the general election – I shall constantly be updating the audience on the current state of play. Ad libs will be flying thick and fast about who has lost their seat and rubbishing the exit polls. In fact, there won’t be a panto in the land that won’t be improvising on the night. I shall imagine Piers and Toby as the front and back end of the Pantomime cow never quite getting the laughs or the timing right a bit like our current leader. Am I allowed to say that?