Why do we love a pantomime so much?

PUBLISHED: 17:31 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:45 11 December 2018

Helen McDermott and John Mangan in Sleeping Beauty at Gorleston

Helen McDermott and John Mangan in Sleeping Beauty at Gorleston


Liz Nice went to Gorleston Pavilion Theatre to see Sleeping Beauty and discovered the answer

Matthew Siveter is amazing as the Dame, Sarah, at Gorleston PavilionMatthew Siveter is amazing as the Dame, Sarah, at Gorleston Pavilion

I always enjoy a good pantomime. My life has been one at times.

This year I was invited to the one at Gorleston by my friend, Helen McDermott, (her of BC and Anglia telly) who is appearing in Sleeping Beauty at the Pavilion Theatre there.

‘Don’t expect too much,’ Helen said. ‘It’s been a bit of a palaver getting this show on the road.’

It certainly has.

Helen’s friend, Des Barrett,
who always writes the panto and puts it on with her, was recently taken into hospital, which unfortunately meant the cast were left at the 11th hour without anyone to direct them. (Get well soon, Des).

Helen was in a bit of a state and it didn’t matter that her friends were telling her that she is a trouper who always pulls it off in the end, she was worried that a) no one would come b) no one would laugh and c) the whole thing would be a disaster.

I arrived at the theatre without hope in my heart, even though I learned that Helen had managed to get a lovely lady called Geannie Kincaid to direct the show at the last minute.

Maybe I didn’t have much hope in my heart anyway for other reasons.

It’s been a tough year.

But the Pavilion Theatre itself was a boost to the soul – I’ve never been anywhere like it. Instead of rows of seats, there are little tables where you can sit with a drink and chat to friends or even people you have never met before, which I have been known to do from time to time. And the place was packed.

I found myself next to Helen’s friend, Christine Webber, Helen’s husband Paul Barnes, a man called Neal Duffield, who was for 40 years operations manager at the RNLI in Gorleston and his lovely wife, Tricia, who is chairman of the Ladies Lifeboat Guild.

Like all British people who don’t know each other well, we were smiling awkwardly and chatting about the weather and the loveliness of the theatre – a pantomime in itself. But then
the show began and soon we were yelling our heads off, laughing and slapping each other’s thighs with the best of them. (OK, there wasn’t really any thigh slapping, but I don’t think anyone would have minded if there had been).

The good fairy, Eloise Hare, started it all off with her
magical singing voice, and then Helen, as the mother of Aurora, brought the house down by trying to claim that she had given birth to the princess just three weeks ago – sorry, Helen, but there seemed to be quite a few in the audience who felt that you might be a little past childbearing age? And after that, the crowd was away.

‘Oh no, you didn’t! Oh yes I did!’

‘It’s behind you!’

‘Do you like my frock?’ (This from the Dame). ‘It rocks!’ (Everyone yelling this.).

The Dame, I must mention. Matthew Siveter is just 24 – when I saw him afterwards in normal clothes, I couldn’t believe he was the same person – and Christine told me that he has never had a singing lesson in his life. But what a voice!

In fact, all the singing was brilliant – Aurora, played by Bethan Treglohan doing There’s a Fine Line from the musical Avenue Q, was my favourite moment and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried, genuine hot tears for a song that really hit the nail on my particular head that evening.

I would have loved this pantomime anyway, even had I not known how close to the wire they all came to getting the show to happen at all, but knowing the background just made the triumph of Helen and all the cast and crew, and of course director Geannie, all the sweeter.

I’ve always thought that pantomimes are so loved, despite their oddness and bizarrity, because they reflect the lives we have lived all year.

Lives full of love, and occasional cruelty. Lives where sometimes laughing in the face of disaster is all you have left.

Lives where the end of the year brings hope that whatever may have come to pass, there will, at last, be a happy ending. And lives where the world will one day sing a song just for you.

Sleeping Beauty by Ohyesitiz Productions runs until December 30. Tickets are available from the Pavilion Box Office

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