Oh no, it’s not!

Splatman Wakes the Sleeping Beauty
Community Centre, Footscray Rd, New Eltham
Friday 15th January, 1999

Pantomime is one of those peculiarly British inventions which doesn’t bear explanation. The appeal of transvestism, audience participation and really naff songs is something which is only really explicable to an Anglo-Saxon — and, perhaps, fans of the Rocky Horror Show. But I think that there is some kind of race memory which impels attendance at such things on an irregular basis? Why else would I have spent Friday night in New Eltham Methodist Church Hall, out in South London between the middle of nowhere and the back of beyond?

This is slightly disingenuous, admittedly, in that my housemate’s girlfriend used to be part of the group which did the panto. Previous excursions had been quite fun: there is a definite snigger factor in seeing someone you know, whose preferred clothes are shades of black, dressed as a fairy godmother. But what Friday night proved is that there are few things worse than bad pantomime.

This was the “Heaven’s Gate” of pantos: three hours long, and with a cast of almost fifty, including an indeterminate number – they kept moving around, making it hard to count them – of small children. I did realise their purpose: the more of them they could drag on stage, the more doting relations there would be to buy tickets. Cynical, but understandable.

The script was self-indulgent and badly paced; basically, it was ‘Sleeping Beauty’ crossed with ‘Batman’, all thrown together for no obvious reason in an SF milieu: time travel, robots, etc. I’m reading a book at thr moment called ‘Hollywood and the UFOs’, whose central premise is that certain movies and TV series are created to either educate or misinform the general public about government knowledge of the UFO phenomenon. I must confess to idle contemplation during the dull moments i.e. most of the first half, as to whether the authors of this panto had intelligence connections. For with the central theme of “missing time”, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is clearly a veiled reference to a UFO abduction…

Also questionable was the casting: the show is a combined effort between the New Eltham Operatic Society and the Community Players, but it seemed as if the singers had to tell the jokes, while the songs were given to the actors. And this is a problem, because piss-poor jokes require delivery with precisely the right degree of self-awareness; there is an ART to being crap in the correct style. Only Bruce Barrett as the King, and Geoff Lander, a wonderfully hang-dog herald, really seemed to deliver their lines with the necessary enthusiasm to make them seem funny. And similarly, the best singing voices belonged to “principal boy” Splatman and her sidekick Dobbin (Rachel King and Elizabeth Penney), the supposed heroes who actually had absolutely nothing to do in the first half.

The horror which that was cannot be described. The moments of dread mounted up as I realised my seat was being dripped on from an open window, that there would be no interval beer (not in a Methodist church hall!) and, perhaps worst of all, the discovery that after ninety minutes we had got through just one of the three acts.
At this point, I toyed briefly with the idea of gnawing off a couple of minor digits to escape, or perhaps more plausibly given the average age of the audience, feigning senile dementia.

Despite the realisation that we weren’t even going to get out before last orders, the second half was fortunately more tolerable, eased by random thoughts of the lesbian subtext inherent in the basic story. Any similarities to a C5 show in which a leather clad and sword-wielding woman rides valiantly to the rescue with a basically useless partner is, I’m sure, coincidental, though ‘Xena Wakes The Sleeping Beauty’ would certainly have appealed. We could also tick off the various traditional elements: community singing, amateur magic tricks and choruses of “Behind you!”, and be comforted by them,

It may seem churlish to complain about what was basically an amateur production, and four quid for three hours of…entertainment…is not bad at all. However, to the observer unbiased by the presence of any friends or relations in the cast, the over-riding feelizng was that there are some things which are best left to the professionals.