By The Rev. Susanna Metz
The Rev. Susanna Metz is an East Tennessee priest who is a team vicar in a team of nine very rural, very small Anglican parishes in North Devon, England.
For The Little Torrington Players, September signals the beginning of our pantomime season. Little Torrington is a tiny village across the valley from, you guessed it, Great Torrington a proper town which was the scene of one of the last battles of the English Civil War.
Someday I’ll share a great story about that battle with you all, but right now, it’s panto time! If you want a quite good history of British pantomimes go to Wikipedia. They began as silent theatre (as we spell it over here) productions, but in the 1800s, the actors were allowed to speak. It took an act of Parliament.
I got involved in the Little Torrington Players my first year here when Bob, the writer and director, called me and said, “You don’t know me, but I need someone to play the part of Scrooge in our panto and everyone says to call you!” I’m not making that up! So, I became Scrooge and the rest is history!
Yes, pantos are a peculiar style of theatre that includes a lot of audience participation where there are set phrases audiences know they’ll be expected to shout out. The stories are almost always based on fairy tales, but are a spoof of that tale. A good panto writer always includes local names, businesses, and local history in the script.
The actors “take the mickey” out of people in the audience. The jokes are usually silly, there’s some slapstick comedy, often there’s songs that the audience are expected to join in on and actors can come off the stage and cajole members of the audience to dance in the aisle with them.
Oh, and you’re probably thinking, you were Scrooge? Yes! This year we’re doing “Not So Little Red Riding Hood or Cute Little Girls Don’t Always Grow Up to be Ladies.”
“I’m LRRH … Oh yes I am.” (That’s a panto line!) The story takes place when LRRH is grown up, not so little anymore, still living with her mother, is thoroughly lazy, and a bit conniving. They’re going to be evicted for not paying the rent, so LRRH goes off to Granny’s to see if she can get any money out of the “old bat!” There’s the forest scene where she meets the wolf and then the woodsman, who she quite fancies. I get to sing “One” from A Chorus Line … one of my favourite songs, in that scene.
I love to go into the audience in character and plant big sticky red lipstick kisses on the heads of the audience and then cajole some folks dance with me. If you come to a panto you know you might be picked out of the crowd so everyone has a good sense of humour about it. There’s the scene where the wolf knocks Granny out, he then tries to eat LRRH, the mum comes in and bashes the wolf, the woodsman and the bailiff show up, and after the poor wolf is bashed several times, it all ends happily ever after. Well, sort of … Granny marries the woodsman, but LRRH and her mum still have nowhere to live and no one cares.
Pantos are a wonderfully hilarious way of involving local folks in acting whether they have any experience or not and those who attend love to hear how they’ll be teased and banter back and forth with the actors. So today I wore my costume to the village coffee this morning to kick off ticket sales. The folks are now used to the costumed vicar bounding into the hall shouting. I’ve learned my lines and all my songs—it’s time to start rehearsing!!