According to Charles Dickens, Christmas is a time when old ghosts come back to haunt you and I’m getting a small taste of that at the moment. Dick Whittington, the first pantomime I wrote, together with Pamela Hope, for my local group Mawdesley Amateur Dramatics Society, and the second to be published, is now appearing on BBC1’s early evening magazine The One Show.
Winterslow Drama Group in Wiltshire chose to perform my version of the famous English panto, and now they are being mentored by actor and pantomime legend Christopher Biggins. Clips of their rehearsals and his advice are being threaded into three editions of the programme leading up to Christmas, starting from 12th December, and continuing on 13th and 16th December. You can watch them for up to 30 days later on the BBC iPlayer.
This may or may not surprise you but I don’t retain a full memory of previous scripts in my head. So there are moments watching this where lines and names come as a surprise to me too. I think the cast are doing a superb job. Christopher Biggins is an actor I’ve respected for both his comedy performances in the likes of Porridge and Psychoville and drama too. Who can forget his sociopathic Nero in I, Claudius? When it comes to pantomime he has an incredible fund of experience as a performer and director, so I would always pay attention to him. I’m hoping he liked our script, even with its alterations to the classic plot.
You always have a special place in your heart for your first, and Dick Whittington will always have a lot of good memories for me. Not only was I learning the ropes of what made a good panto script, but I was also playing the Dame, which might make you suspect I gave myself all the best lines, but that is absolutely not the case loves! Since this series has started, it has been fun to hear from my old former cast mates who are amused to be reminded of their old lines again, just as I am.
At that time MADS was a fairly low ebb in terms of cast and resources. We had the village hall (which looks uncannily similar to Winterslow’s btw) and good costume designers but in terms of sets, props, light and sounds we had recently lost a lot of expertise. So one of the driving factors of that script was that it was simple to stage and its a virtue I have tried to keep to with all my subsequent scripts. I always advise that groups can build on my descriptions and effect suggestions if they fancy it.
Probably the most important lesson I learnt that initial time out was not to try to be too surreal or too intellectual with my jokes. All the best laughs come from audacious groaners – the chicken run joke for example, or good character stuff that the audiences recognise in themselves, or logical stupidity, such as the henchmen threatening Hugo and the Baroness with pretend guns because they cannot afford a real one, followed by established idiot Hugo claiming he’s helpless because they have got him covered. And don’t be embarrassed by happy accidents. I wrote a line about Dick being spotted around the docks just as a plot point, not realising the innuendo until audiences started laughing on the nights.
If you would like to read the script yourself or maybe even consider it for your own theatre group, please take a look at my author’s page at Lazy Bee Scripts.
I knew about this One Show coverage from the Winterslow Drama Group home page, and only knew it had started when a friend texted me to say he had just seen my name on the telly. So I have no idea what is going to happen in the next few editions, but I’ll certainly be watching to find out!