Last week I went to the pantomime - the one starring Ian McKellen as the dame - Caroline Goose aka Mother Goose. It was great fun, with all the usual ingredients - like the audience participation - with a modern gloss. Instead of being down on the farm Mrs. Goose runs an animal sanctuary in an old branch of Debenhams.
I wanted to see this as friends had recommended it and I've been a fan of Sir Ian's for over 50 years, when I saw him in Cardiff in his breakout production of Richard II. We're both getting on a bit now. As were much of the audience for the panto. It made me reflect on my history of pantomime-going. I'm guessing that many of the audience also hailed from the time of the traditional production. I can't recall ever seeing Mother Goose before. Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk and, of course, Cinderella were the staple fare.
Pantomime was my first introduction to theatre. Mum always got tickets, but we had to wait until late in the run - in February- when they were cheaper. In those days the emphasis was on spectacle - I remember dancing fountains and ponies pulling Cinderella's coach. The Principal Boy was always a girl - and that was the part I wanted with its mix of cavalier and Georgian finery. I never wanted Cinderella's party dress - it was the thigh boots, wasp waisted tunics in velvet and brocade and the hats with extravagant plumes worn by Prince Charming and his side-kick, Dandini that appealed to me.
Pantomime was childhood, but there are other memories too. Roll on the years. I was working in London and only came home for a few days at Xmas. John Nettles, another of my collection of favourite actors, was appearing as the villain - I think it was the Demon King. I'd heard good things and really wanted to see it. The only opportunity was Boxing Day and there was no public transport. I tentatively asked Dad, the family chauffeur, if he would like to go. He said yes so I treated us to the tickets. Mum and I wondered what he would make of it - his first time in a theatre - turned out he really enjoyed it, which doubled my own enjoyment. The following year I got tickets again - no John Nettles this time but we all wanted to go. Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly in September and the first time that his death really sank in was when I realised that there would be no second trip to the panto.
Not having grandchildren I don't usually do panto these days, but as most of the audience last week was very much in the older age groups I did not feel out of place. As I said it was fun, and stirred a lot of memories.