The Great British Pantomime

We started our Sunday by watching the snow fall outside our London windows, which was a first for us. E was SUPER excited. Seems she’s already forgotten how much snow she’s seen in past winters in Baltimore. “Look at how many snows are on the cars!”

[Then and now:]

Well, because this is London, that wasn’t actually many snows, so we had no trouble getting to the New Wimbledon Theatre last night.

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One very British Christmastime tradition is taking the family to see a “panto,” short for “pantomime,” which is an over-the-top-cheesy stage production of a classic story, e.g., Cinderella, Peter Pan, or, for our choice, Jack and the Beanstalk. A lot of them star fairly well known British actors or comedians, and this one featured Al Murray and Clive Rowe. M and I had never heard of either of them, but according to the internets, they seem marginally famous.

The panto format is pretty ridiculous. There’s no fourth wall and a lot of audience participation (to M’s chagrin). Whenever the villain appears on stage, the audience boos loudly. There’s a lot of yelling things like “He’s behind you!”, and the actors and audience yelling back and forth at each other: “Yes it is!” “No it isn’t!” “Yes it is!”

There’s clapping and singing along, and several people are chosen to stand up and do something, or even (M shudders) are brought up on stage. There’s a lot of British humour and pop culture references throughout.

“And where would we be if there weren’t any rules?” Audience: “France!” “And where would we be if there were too many rules?” Audience: “Germany!” They love it.

There are musical numbers and bright, glittery costumes and really punny jokes eliciting groans from the audience and “badum-tss” from the orchestra pit. There’s also a fair amount of crude humour meant to go over the kids’ heads (I hope it does).

“These biscuits came from the palace. They’re Meghan’s favourite. Ginger Nuts.”

I got us seats right in the middle of the third row of the stalls, which, in hindsight, was stupid, because we very easily could have been made to participate. I’m lucky M didn’t get singled out last night, because I think that I would have been single today.

The production value was much higher than I expected. This wasn’t community theatre. The set, special effects, costumes, and quality of the actors/singers/dancers was actually good. In the second act, when they go up the beanstalk to the giant’s castle, we were told to put on our 3D glasses, and the background of the set was a screen with 3D animation. There were lots of shrieks from the audience as things appeared to jump right out of the set at us.

E got a bit scared at that point, and quickly took off her glasses, but otherwise she enjoyed it. She told me today her favourite part was how every time Jack’s mother (Clive Rowe) came out and yelled “Coooey!” we were all supposed to yell “Coooey!” back to her. Then I had to show her photos of the actor online to prove to her that he was actually a man, because she didn’t believe me.

R enjoyed the musical numbers, mooing at the cow, and also all the snacks I continually fed her to get her to stay in one place for two hours. I was wishing I’d brought the noise-blocker headphones I’d bought for her before Bonfire Night, though, as it was all quite loud.

At the end, they gave shoutouts to all the individuals in the audience who were celebrating their birthdays, and we all sang “Happy Birthday” together. It was all just silly, ridiculous fun.

The actress who played the good fairy-type character (she was called the “Spirit of the Beans,” which really just sounds like a euphemism for gas) joined us on the train platform heading back to Clapham Junction. She was met a minute later by the evil villain (who was called “FleshCreep”; I considered giving him a big BOOOOO but decided I’d refrain from embarrassing my family), and they boarded our same train car together. E seemed intrigued to see them as normal people just riding the train in their regular clothes.

And so continues our month of giant Christmas fe-fi-fo-fun! (That pun would fit right in at a panto, honest.)

 

 

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Winterville

It’s December, and I hope you’re ready for a whole slew of posts about things to do in London at Christmastime, because I’m ready to do them ALL and report back.

It’s beginning to look a lot like English Christmas on our high street

Last year I had a new baby, and so couldn’t handle that much advance planning for Christmas activities (though looking back, we still managed to do an awful lot for someone with a newborn… see Christmas 2016 recaps Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6).

Picking out our Christmas tree this weekend

Well, this year I have been on top of it. I started booking things in October, and have pretty much overbooked the diary full of festive cheer. Since we don’t know whether this could be our last Christmas here, and since E is 4 1/2 and has just hit that fun peak Christmas magic stage, I want to do as much as possible this year. We are going to completely Christmas ourselves out.

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The nice thing about having done so much advance planning is now December is here and everything is already booked and we can just enjoy going to the things I’ve got tickets for.

Last year we went to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, a large temporary amusement park, but this year there’s a similar thing set up on Clapham Common, not far from where we live. So this weekend we bundled up the kids and rode our bikes over to Winterville.

Winterville has the typical fun fair/carnival rides and games and noise, though they’ve tried to theme it for Christmas/winter.

Boom. Now it’s Santa’s sleigh.

(The horse ride they’d turned into reindeer by stretching reindeer masks over the horse heads. The effect was truly terrifying, made more so by the Chipmunks Christmas album being blasted at an ungodly decibel level.) (And speaking of terrifying…:)

In addition, there’s a roller disco, a small ice skating rink, plonk golf (whatever that is?), entertainment in the “Spiegeltent,” a puppet theatre, street food cart pods (yes! so much better than typical crappy fair food stalls), and bars selling beer plus festive options like hot mulled wine, Bailey’s hot chocolate, and frozen toffee vodka shots.

Backyard Cinema have set up a “Winter Night Garden,” where you go through a “secret” wardrobe door and into a “magical” (and fully heated) forest, where you can watch a film from the comfort of a beanbag sofa. It sounds like fun, and they’re doing a lot of popular Christmas movies I love, but it’s also something like £22 a person, plus of course I’d want to buy a drink from the bar, so I decided I had to draw the line somewhere in my Christmastime event booking.

Entry to Winterville is free (and they even allow dogs on leads), so we could go back again this month to do other activities if we choose to. Or even just to eat at the food carts!

We let E choose three rides to go on, which are absurdly overpriced, but I had picked up a couple of 2-for-1 ride tickets at a local business, so we did get a bit of a discount there. She did the flying elephants and the giant wheel with M, and I went on the Santa’s sleigh mini rollercoaster with her.

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Then we went to one of the two food cart pods, which has tables in the middle, as well as, thankfully, heat lamps overhead. M got this ridiculous “Christmas burger,” featuring a fried turkey breast. Ridiculous in a fantastically good way. And for a side, duck fat potatoes with cranberry chutney, chestnut stuffing, bread sauce mayo, pickled red onions, and a pot of gravy for dipping. Why not? It’s Christmas!

I’d booked tickets in advance for the Christmas puppet show, Mimi and the Mountain Dragon, and M took E after lunch.

Then there were kids’ activities in the Spiegeltent this afternoon, so they got some hot chocolate with torched marshmallow fluff and E happily did some Christmas crafting and got “glitter tattoos” and learned some circus skills. In case college isn’t her thing, it’s good to have something to fall back on.

The two things Winterville seems to be missing, which Hyde Park has, are Christmas market stalls selling handicrafts and Father Christmas’ grotto, where you can meet the jolly big elf himself. There was one little market tent, but it wasn’t very big, and the stuff being sold inside was… kind of weird.

Crazy sparkly costume stuff that you’d wear to, I don’t know, a rave or something I guess? A festival I’m not cool enough to attend? And there was literally a table selling what appeared to be handmade, artisanal… S&M supplies. I’m just glad I didn’t have E with me when I wandered through there. When I reported back to M on this, he just shrugged and said, “London, man. Something for everyone.”

I’ll update this post if we go back to Winterville for anything else; and stay tuned for more London Christmas activity posts to come!

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