Now available for theatre groups of almost any kind is my pantomime version of the Grimm’s fairytale “Rumplestiltskin”. It has been published by Lazy Bee Scripts and I want to thank Stuart Arden for his help. It’s my first solo panto outing, having co-written versions of “Dick Whittington”, “Aladdin” and “Treasure Island”. You can take a look at all of them on the Lazy Bee website – http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Authors/Author.aspx?iIA=239
Rumplestiltskin has become one of the slightly lesser known of the Grimm’s collection. In fact when I’ve been talking about, its noticeable how many people get it confused with Rapunzel. I suspect its partly because the latter has had the Disney treatment in the marvellous “Tangled”. Another reason is because its inescapably one of the darker stories, with its baby trading plot and few sympathetic characters. I mean even the heroine is someone who offers their baby away, albeit under duress. So adapting it into a frothy family show had some challenges. That was actually one of the reasons I chose to adapt it, because at the time there were no other versions on Lazy Bee’s books (Aladdin by contrast had eight different scripts at the time.) By the time I submitted it however, it was number three.
As someone who has acted in eight panto productions, my philosophy with panto writing is to keep it as fast moving as possible, with the minimum amount of sentimentality and romantic scenes. In my experience romantic duets, even with accomplished singers, can leave the audience shuffling in their seats and similarly dramatic pathos can quickly become tedious bathos. So young love and tragic events are pretty much transparent plot devices to drive the story onwards, and the story is there to hang comedy on to.
Generally I’ve been writing for amateur theatre companies who don’t have much in the way of resources. My first was written in an emergency for a largely inexperienced group of friends, so Pam Hope and I felt obliged to write something with the minimum of props and major scene changes. I’m quite proud that none of my scripts have needed more than three backdrops, as I make extensive use of the half-curtain stage space. In Aladdin, I turned the lack of ability to stage a standard flying carpet sequence into an asset with a scene where the carpet and actors stay still, whilst landmarks are carried past them by the junior chorus, a bit of lo-fi comedy which always seems to go down well.
Whilst panto plots may be more contrived that most, they still have to have internal logic. In the original tale the heroine marries the king who imprisoned her and forced her to spin gold. This struck me has hard to swallow, so I changed to an evil king and queen who had a good son, who eventually confronts them and rescues the girl. Furthermore it is the goblin who has magically made the king and queen evil, so they can freed and become good again, whilst making Rumplestiltskin even nastier. The matter of the heroine offering her first-born, without losing all audience sympathy was another tricky one. I dealt with it by really stacking the deck against her. She makes the deal as much to save her family as herself and also hopes that she may not have a baby. In the second act, she is clearly shown regretting the decision and is also the person who ultimately defeats the goblin.
At the readthrough for the play with some friends, I found that the first act was too long, pushing the whole play over my self-imposed time limit of two hours. My solution was to edit the heroine’s imprisonment from three days to two, thus cutting out two scenes, and also cutting some of the introductory dialogue which was just exposition with no jokes. The result definitely feels tighter. Some readers felt the story was still a bit too frightening, so I took out the goblin’s line – “a real live baby is more precious to me than all the gold in the kingdom.” After that it was ensuring that the jokes come thick and fast. Pantos have a definite formula, which can be helpful for writer, but I have to be careful to watch out for repetition or too many jokes of the same kind. I hope that “Rumplestiltskin” will have a good shelf life for many years to come, and that groups have as much fun putting it on as I’ve had writing. More in fact!