My husband G is very fond of the old Laurel and Hardy skits. The boys and I sit in silence with blank stares as he roars with laughter at the black and white footage, often with tears rolling down his face. We on the other hand, have the same reaction when watching An Idiot Abroad, or Miranda, or Come Fly With Me, whereas he sits there with a slightly baffled smile. We have all agreed to disagree on things like this – and we vary who we side with - indeed, I am in the minority when the men of the household are glued to Man vs Food, Ice Road Truckers, and that strangest of phenomena Lizard Lick Towing.
But there is no doubt that there is a type of comedy that is more slapstick than others, and the joy in the humour is that of predictability and anticipation. Often the gag’s ending is predictable from the start, but it is the joy in how it reaches that ending, and the anticipation of that ending. It is the stuff from which all comedy was born, it filled the theatre revues pre-, during, and post- war, it fathered the black and white movies, and it became the basis from which every working stand up comedian studied their craft. It is, also, of course, the foundation of every pantomime.
So it was with interest this week that I attended some of the rehearsals – mainly in my capacity as fully licensed chaperone (oh yes!), but also because I wanted to see how it was all progressing. The principal stars of the show work in the main from 9.30 in the morning to about 3.30, breaking a couple of times and then they are joined by the juveniles at 4.00, who then warm up for about ten minutes before the second lot of rehearsals begin. Amanda appears to be living mainly on coffee, but the other actors wander around with fruit, sandwiches and copious amounts of water in a practice room which gets hotter and hotter as the night progresses. This rehearsal time is the time in which the stars scripts merge with the juveniles script and suddenly the whole picture becomes clearer. As in any good comedy there are a number of points at which the action becomes fast paced and almost chaotic, and there are several groaners of lines, but it is fascinating as an observer to see how 3 teams of kids slot into their duplicate scenes seamlessly around the main unchangeable cast, each character having the same moves or lines as his or her predecessor.
In terms of the performance therefore, it is very promising, and the local Press have been incredibly generous with their coverage of the forthcoming production, more so because they also have to feature the rival more established pantomimes who have paid adverts appearing in the media. The latest billboard, this time featuring the juveniles, appeared last week to great reviews, both from fond families and in the press. Features on the main characters are being run every few days or so in the local online Mums In The Know group, and generally everyone has a genuine desire to help this pantomime succeed. The staff at the Harlington Centre, used to running and advertising one and two day events, have had to adapt an entirely new long term form of marketing in terms of social media and press relations – and last weekend for the first time ever (@fleetpanto) took part in a 24 hour Tweetathon along with hundreds of other pantomimes nationwide for Panto Day 2013. Exhausting but exhilarating, the efforts reached thousands of pantoland fans, connected with several, and was retweeted by many before bidding a fond farewell for another year. I really hope that those at The Harlington continue to build on this success, keeping up the momentum and ensuring that the work put in by others is not wasted.
There is nothing like a little politeness or acknowledgement to make the world go round. It was Little Man’s birthday today, and I lumbered in to rehearsals carrying an enormous cake, because, he said, he wanted everyone to have a slice. Not only did the whole cast sing Happy Birthday to him twice – once at the beginning, and once again at the end for cake – but every single child came up to him and thanked him for their slice, and wished him a happy birthday.
He left beaming. The camaraderie amongst the kids and even amongst the parents is amazing.Perhaps it is because of the predictability of the situation (we are all in this together, come hell or high water). Or perhaps it is the joy of the anticipation…
Either way, we’re having a right old laugh…