Oh, yes we did!

Our family, six of us, attended the pantomime Peter Pan at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, one of the final performances of the season.

We were seated in The Gods; there were only a couple of rows behind us. My granddaughter didn’t understand the term but I told her that, despite these being the highest, and cheapest, seats in the theatre they did give a chance of overlooking all the other rows below us – godlike. 

I have been to many of the Woking pantos, including the very first one. When I was editing What’s On In Woking I would be given tickets for the first performance: seats in the middle of the stalls, and mince pies during the interval.

A few weeks prior to opening night I would have had the opportunity of interviewing some of the cast members. I know that some actors used to think acting in panto was below them. Since Sir Ian McKellen happily performed in Mother Goose those attitudes have surely changed. Most actors realise that pantomime is probably the first time a child will visit a theatre and it is down to those actors to make the child want to return.

At our recent visit, there was the usual joyous shrieking from the children in the audience, although I found much of the performance over-amplified to such a degree that I could not understand the words. It was not just me getting old: my teenage granddaughter next to me agreed she could not understand parts of it, particularly in the songs. 

It was obvious that Paul Chuckle has had audiences chuckling, and roaring with laughter, in more than a few pantomimes in the past. He was a joy.

As a child I was lucky as my father worked in the theatre business and we would attend the dress rehearsal of the pantomime at the London Palladium every year. It would always overrun as it was a rehearsal, and things were being altered as the action proceeded. 

Those were the days when the Principal Boy was played by a beautiful girl, with long legs and a good singing voice. A motherly character was played by a man in ridiculous drag, often a well-known comic. The Principal Girl was played by, wait for it, a beautiful girl with a good singing voice.

What a strange thing pantomime is. Foreign friends have attended out of curiosity and remained at least partially baffled by the end.

I was delighted to read in The Daily Telegraph of December 24, 2023 that pantomime is one of several traditional British arts and crafts which could be safeguard by UNESCO, along with other essentially British entertainments such as cheese rolling and shanty choirs. 

It is likely that sometime in the spring the public will be asked to nominate traditions which they feel encapsulate British culture and should be preserved. The list would extend well beyond entertainment, so thatching and basket weaving are suggested. Celebratory days are also cited, such as Burns Night and the Notting Hill Carnival. Perhaps we can vote for St George’s Day? 

Certainly we must vote for pantomime. Oh, Yes We Must!

I was fascinated to read in the Telegraph of December 20, 2023 that in the paper 100 years previously it was reported that: “The first wireless pantomime, Singbad the Wailer, will be broadcast from the Birmingham station of the British Broadcasting Company on Boxing Day.”

It continued: “This play has been specially written for the occasion by the Birmingham station staff and will consist of six scenes, ‘if the current lasts’ as they have announced it. Further details are not yet forthcoming but the BBC have not thought fit to broadcast it to all stations.”

I do hope the current lasted for the duration of the show. What a piece of history, if a recording should come to light.

During this year’s pantomime season at the New Victoria Theatre, a bucket collection was made in aid of Woking & Sam Beare Hospice. At the performance we attended, a cheque for some £22,000 was handed to the hospice. There would be an addition to that for we were not at the last night of the show, so there would be further donations to be counted.

I know it used to be the rule that actors would sign in at the stage door: it probably still is. I have, on several occasions, suggested that there should be a second signing-in book which could be sold or perhaps auctioned at the end of every year. What an amazing collection of autographs, some of famous actors, some of actors yet to become famous. I collected Hannah Waddingham’s when she appeared at the theatre many years ago. Hasn’t she done well! 

Home entertainment

Pantomime is very much a Christmas entertainment but we also make our own entertainment, and charades and quizzes are up there in the popularity stakes.

Whilst holidaying in the Netherlands we partook of both – simultaneously.

By the magic of modern technology, of which I know very little, we were able to organise a quiz with friends in the UK and in New Zealand and see them at the same time. Christmas is, indeed, a time of magic!

Each team submitted a group of questions but my youngest daughter managed to combine this with a form of charades. She had us acting out scenes from well-known films, which she then photographed until she had a sufficient number to present as a group of questions to the contestants. 

Possibly the most amusing to set up was the shower scene from Psycho for, whilst we were all crammed into her shower room with one of us behind the shower curtain and another poised with a knife, her husband’s extended family walked in on us! 

It was a time of fun and invention to find props around the house. Luckily, the house is still a work in progress, so a spare door propped up in the hallway was a useful find to double as flotsam in one famous scene. 

What do you think?

How is Woking Borough Council going to protect vulnerable residents from the forthcoming cuts? 

That is the question put forward by Woking Debates for you to consider and, perhaps, comment on.

Woking Debates was started 12 years ago by Woking Action for Peace and is organised with the support of several local groups hoping to encourage active participation in the local community by looking at some of the underlying issues facing us.

The meeting, on Saturday (January 27, 2024) from 11am to 12.30pm is at Woking United Reform Church, White Rose Lane, GU22 7HA and also on Zoom; very useful in bad weather. 

If you join on Zoom you must supply your own refreshment, but if you go to the church from 10.30am there will be tea and coffee on offer. Entrance is free but donations are welcome.

For further information contact Keith Scott on 01483 824980 or at [email protected]