Perplexed by Panto

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Cordula Schnuer on her first ever panto experience

Christmas season is panto season, and even though I have lived here for over three years, I never quite understood what panto was all about. So, on the opening night of Sleeping Beauty at the Byre, I decided to take part in this peculiar British tradition. I fled from the cold of South Street into the theatre and let the play work its magic.

I am not quite sure how to begin to talk about what happened at the Byre, but it involved a drag fairy that looked like a bad version of a character from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, aptly named Fairy Kylie Contrary. There were the parents of Beauty – Queen Toshita, a mix of Posh Spice and Lady Gaga, and King Pecisnold, who sported highlights and very tight shorts – with a plot that was a strange reworking of the classic tale.

Safe to say that there was a happy ending, but there were a few twists and turns along the way together with some surprising song choices. The evil Queenie McMeanie cast her fatal spell singing, “Defying Royalty” – a pun on the hit musical, Wicked. She also worked “9 to 5” in her cave. Renditions of “I kissed a Girl” and the obligatory Kylie Minogue showgirl number gave Sleeping Beauty a modern and pop culture edge.

They also left me wondering what was going on. Why were there children with pompoms dancing on stage? What is it with the cross-dressing? Why does a joke about Dunfermline make the audience cheer and clap? Who is Lorraine Kelly?

Leaving the theatre I was bewildered and a bit unsure of what had just unfolded in front of my eyes. Surrounded by an audience who booed and hissed, laughed and cheered, I felt like the odd one out.

This does not take away from the fact that the cast delivered solid performances. A few technical hiccups were quickly forgiven and forgotten and improvisation saved the day on a few occasions.

Still, it feels as though this bit of Britain is not easily understood by a foreigner, least of all because of some thick Scottish accents. Scotland has embraced the German Christmas Market, but I have a hard time picturing a panto on a German stage. Maybe I should have taken advantage of that free glass of wine at the pre-show reception, because I am as confused by panto now as I was three years ago.

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