Our Aladdin and Treasure Island lead the way in 2017

Woman with mask in funny concept

It is always exciting and flattering when a theatre group chooses to perform one of my pantomimes. This year the two which I co-wrote with Adrian Barradell definitely seem to have struck a chord with societies. So I can only salute the following brave casts and crews who are performing Aladdin and Treasure Island in the first half of next year. Hope you all have a fantastic time.

Ambitions in Gloucester are putting on a performance of Aladdin in January.

The Wraysbury Players are staging Aladdin in Wraysbury, near Staines, also in January.

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January sees Swavesey RADSOC bringing Treasure Island to life in Cambridge.

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Tregony Clockhouse Players are putting on Aladdin in Truro in February and finally
Brockweir Amateur Dramatics Society are visitng Treasure Island themselves in March.

 

More NODA happiness

I’m interrupting my Out of the Unknown marathon for a bit of housekeeping.

First off, I’ve been updating the Writing and Audio Drama pages on the left, adding web-links so that you find out more about (and maybe even order) some of my work. For example clicking on any of the pantomime scripts now takes you directly to their pages at Lazy Bee Scripts.

Secondly, but more importantly I’m delighted to announce that my lovely actor friend Bridgett Welch has just won the 2016 National Operatic and Drama Association award for Best Female Comedy Performance (Pantomime) after appearing in my own Rumplestiltskin. The show was premiered by Mawdesley Amateur Dramatic Society. She was indeed a wonderful Dame, but then I thought the whole cast were marvelous. It’s especially lovely because I became involved in amateur theater via MADS and I certainly would not have written any of my pantos without their support over the years.

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Bridgett is here on the left, next to fellow MADS Debbie and Emma.

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And here in character as Dame Dolly!

Pantomime season for me starts in the Summer

It’s been an encouraging time for me lately on the pantomime front. This year I published my first panto as solo writer – Rumplestiltskin – via Lazy Bee Press. It’s always nerve-wracking to send my work out into the world, waiting to see not only if people like it, but will some people actually put real money on the table to stage it. My last panto, a version of Treasure Island co-written with Adrian Barradell, had failed to attract much interest. So it was a pleasant surprise when I received my latest sales report and read that a Washington based group called The British Players had chosen it as their pantomime for this year and will be staging it 4 – 20 December at Kensington Town Hall. Many thanks. Back in the UK, my old comrades at Mawdesley Amateur Dramatic Society are also kindly staging a production of it too. Another community group had bought a review copy, whilst Lowdham Pantomime Group has generously chosen Aladdin the version written by Adrian and myself a few years ago.

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Pantomime are curious beasts to write. On one hand they are very formulaic and indeed their audience expects them to be so. A familiar folk tale. a silly dame, heroic boy and girl, completely evil villain, usually with two useless henchmen, and a monster at some point to chase the cast around. On the other hand a good panto also surprises us with its contemporary jokes and its magic. There must be a moment where all seems lost and the bad guy will win. It must entertain children of all ages and their parents too. Plus I know I am writing for companies where not everyone is a great actor or comedian. The characters must have strong identities of their own that can support anyone brave enough to step in front of an audience. There’s real pleasure to be had when I see someone get a big laugh with a joke I wrote for them.

At the moment I am trying to write in a different genre but I may well return to panto in a year or so’s time and choose another fairytale to retell both in my own style, and also with all the trusty pantomime tools in the box too.

Writing Rumplestiltskin the pantomime

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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!