It’s Christmas, so it’s pantomime season. And in Appleton Wiske, as in many other villages, it’s a home-grown, home-produced Christmas pantomime. But in an age of TV, with professional entertainment available at the touch of a button, why do folk still put on home-grown shows?
To find out why, I visited Appleton Wiske Players backstage, for Dalesman Magazine.
Diana Taylor, who has acted various characters, says, “I love the camaraderie, and it was a great way to involve myself in the village when I first came here.”
It certainly is a great way to meet people – around a hundred people, estimates director Ann Wilkinson, are involved in an average year’s production. And with preparations occupying the whole of the autumn, friendships are forged as the days shorten.
The audience plays its role too. The actors on stage encourage – booing the baddie, cheering the goodie, shouting up for the classic ‘behind you!’ scene, plus, of course, the ‘oh yes he is, oh no, he isn’t’ routine. It’s all taken in good part – especially when sweeties are sent out to the children.
But the people behind stage, it seems, have even more fun than the audience. Props maestro Jane Davy comments, “You still get the buzz that everyone else gets – you don’t have to be on stage.”
Producing a pantomime involves many more people than the characters seen on stage. There are props, costumes, lights, music, refreshments, seating, tickets to be printed and sold, accounts, scenery, special effects. The list is endless; there is a job for anybody, of any age or of any skill.
One of the talents is Ann Wilkinson, who writes a bespoke script – last year, it was ‘The Pied Piper of Appleton Wiske’. Ann says, “Most are based on fairy stories you’ve heard since you were a toddler. It’s a case of expanding the story, adding comedy elements, finding things for the children to do – and working out how it will fit the people taking part, working to their strengths.
She incorporates lots of local jokes, and more jokes are added through rehearsals, as those involved make remarks ‘off the cuff’. If it raises a laugh, it goes into the script.
Richard Johnson has done lighting ever since he borrowed some school lights for the village’s first pantomime thirty years ago. He says, “I prefer live shows, whether music or pantomime. I rarely go the cinema, or watch DVDs or TV. I like the extra energy and life in a live show, the fact that somebody is there doing it live, it just seems more life-like.”
He is a member of one of several village pantomime ‘dynasties’, commenting, “We’ve had four generations of the family involved – my father used to do scenery, he was an artist. He did that, and I did lighting. Then our three children, and two grandchildren, have all been in the pantomime.”
Despite his long service, Richard says, “I enjoy it, though I could do with some help. I have had some young helpers, but when they get to 18, they tend to disappear.”
Pantomime is a very old form of entertainment, incorporating ancient elements. For instance, the Dame is usually played by a man, while the romantic lead boy is usually played by a woman. Such elements of cross dressing date from the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia, which included role reversal as one of its jollities.
However, in Appleton Wiske, pantomimers aim simply to have a good time, and the group is always open to new members. Chairperson Michelle Street says, “Anybody can do something, it’s so inclusive. People say they can’t go stage, but they can do other things.”
And, adds Michelle, “Every year, new people come, who you didn’t know before. It’s lovely…new ones come and are included straight away.”
Contact Appleton Wiske Players at http://www.appletonwiske.com/activities.htm
Read more about Appleton Wiske pantomime in Dalesman Magazine, December 2016 Issue