Pantomimes to be altered to meet ‘realistic’ government specifications

Children’s entertainment must be changed to reflect the realities of modern life, a government directive has ordered, and has cited the traditional British pantomime as the worst offender. 

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Andy Burnham has insisted that all pantomimes must contain a greater degree of accuracy, and that their storylines discourage children from harbouring unrealistic aspirations.  ‘This government does not intend for Britain’s youth to grow up disillusioned.’ said Burnham during a House of Commons open session.  ‘Children need to be taught that life isn’t all of songs, slapstick and happy endings.  We have therefore published a set of guidelines which pantomime-makers much strictly adhere to.’

Last year’s festive pantomime season may only just be over, but the amount of planning required to put on such a spectacular means that theatre producers are already working on the preliminary stages of this year’s panto season.  However, if strictly enforced, the new government guidelines will mean that these fun-filled productions will be very different come Christmas 2009. 

Panto director Barry Stevens is in the early stages of his latest production of Dick Whittington at the Birmingham Hippodrome and his attitude is typical of the theatrical production community as a whole.  ‘We’ve had to re-write the entire thing – Dick still leaves Gloucester to seek his fortune but no longer reaches London.  His journey is cut short when he accepts a job at a motorway service station just outside Swindon.’

Peter Simpson of the New Theatre Oxford has also had to make changes.  ‘We’re now calling our Christmas extravaganza ‘Jack and the Beansprout’.  Jack has to kill his cow due to foot and mouth but with the resultant compensation rents a small allotment and grows exotic vegetables for a modest profit.’ Barry and Peter are not alone as theatre companies across the country struggle with new shows such as ‘Puss in Comfortable Shoes’, ‘Little Red Riding Hoodie’ and ‘Unmarried Mother Goose’. 

Panto writer Derek Meecher has fought manfully to adapt to the new guidelines.  ‘I write several pantomimes a year.’ he states, ‘They’re all pretty formulaic really: the boy gets the girl and they all live happily ever after – except the bad guy that is, who ultimately gets his just deserts.  But that’s all changed now.’ According to the new rules, the principle ‘boy’ must get the girl and enter into a same-sex civil partnership before spending the next few years desperately trying to adopt a child in the teeth of fierce opposition from the local authorities. 

‘It’s awful.’ Meecher continues, ‘In my latest script Widow Twanky completes a gender reassignment procedure but fails to get a bank loan to keep her laundry business open.  She is forced to reverse her operation and tours working-men’s clubs as a drag act in order to make ends meet.’ He also bemoans the fate of the villain of the piece.  ‘The evil Grand Vizier is now arrested on terror charges, detained unlawfully and then deported back to his home country.  It’s not easy to write a torture scene that’s entertaining to children, I know that much!’

Meecher is also struggling with one of panto’s best-loved interactive elements.  ”He’s behind you – sound your rape alarm!’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it?’

(Written 20 Feb 2009)

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Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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