Monday, November 11, 2013

Grim Tales - J.P. Bowie

I'm afraid this won't be a very long post as my association with fairy tales is sketchy at best. When I was a kid growing up in Scotland, part of our Christmas treat was to a pantomime - a British tradition that somehow has escaped the attention of American theatre goers. The plot was generally centered around a well known fairy tale or adventure story - Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose etc.

What made them different from the more mainstream productions like say, Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella or Disney's Beauty and the Beast, was that in the pantomime Cinderella, Prince Charming would be played by a woman, usually a quite strapping, tall woman, and the ugly sisters by two men or 'Dames' as they were called.  The scripts for these productions would never have been okayed by a West End or Broadway director, filled as they were with sexual innuendo designed to fly over the heads of the kiddies but give the aware adults a good giggle or belly laugh.

(I've actually written a novella based on the pantomime tradition due out Nov. 29th, A Christmas Portrait - A Paranormal Mystery - where the production of Cinderella is interrupted by murder and ghostly goings on.)

So, as a child my connection to fairy tales was almost solely based on the once a year panto visit. Imagine my surprise when I actually read Cinderella and discovered that the ugly sisters weren't funny caricatures played by camp men, but godawful harridans willing to cut off their heels or toes so their feet would fit in the glass slipper! The Prince's revulsion at seeing blood all over the floor turned my little stomach and made me want to never read another horror story like that again.

 Old ladies being thrown into ovens, wolves swallowing grandmothers, wicked stepmothers handing out poisoned apples, ogres biting off the heads of Englishmen all seemed to me the stuff of nightmares which I suffered from anyway, without adding visions of all these other nasty things that could creep up on you when you least expected it.

No, no fairy tales for me. Compared to them, the adventures of Flash Gordon, Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter were good clean, unscary fun that I could safely dream about without waking up screaming for my mother. I know, what an admission. Maybe, to salve my childhood terrors I should write an m/m story based on Beauty and the Beast - or perhaps The Little Mermaid could become The Little Merman...then again, maybe not.

Here's the synopsis for my foray into the British tradition of a pantomime at Christmas:

A Christmas Portrait - a paranormal mystery.

 The characters in the story first appeared in the 'Portrait' series :

A Christmas pantomime—a British tradition—when families flock to the theatre for ribald entertainment, gender bending roles and thinly veiled innuendo. But jealousy, hate, murder? Surely that’s not part of the entertainment? Or so Peter Brandon  and Jeff  Stevens think when they accept an invitation to spend Christmas in London with their longtime friends Rod Whitbread and Arthur MacBride. 

Arthur, affectionately known as ‘A’,  is making his return to the stage in Cinderella, playing one of the ugly sisters. But things get really ugly when Ken Blackwell, the other sister, tries to shake up Arthur’s self-esteem by calling him a washed up old has-been, then goes on a jealous rampage when the show’s director falls ill and Rod is asked to replace him.

When a stagehand is injured and a cast member goes missing, Peter’s psychic intuition helps him see past the pantomime’s gaudy glitter and into the dark secrets some people are desperate to conceal.

Cue the creepy music....


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  2. Those pantomimes sound fun, JP. I always like things that are meant for kids, with another level of adult humor thrown in. Although Momma and I never had any children, I've been in the company of kids watching these multi-audience shows. The kids will say: "What's so funny" when something goes over their heads..
    When I was a young pothead, we'd get high and watch a kid's show "Soupy Sales" in the afternoons. We were sure ol' Soupy was high as well, considering the jokes, pratfalls and absurdities, all readily understood by us hipsters. He finally got canned for asking all the little kiddies to go into their parents' wallets and purses, find a paper, green on one side, with the number 5, then send it to his address.

  3. What a hoot! What is it with kiddie show hosts? Soupy, Peewee and the guy behind Elmo (oops, unfortunate phrasing). Maybe it's their own childhood insecurities. I was fortunate enough to appear (ensemble) in a London Palladium Pantomime years ago - and it was a lot of fun. Still get emails from some of the cast.

  4. The pantomime sounds like a very funny production! Me faither was from Glesga, and he never mentioned this. But he grew up during the bombings of WW2, dirt-poor, so maybe his family could only afford the movie shows his Mom and sister would drag him to. If he was still around, I'd ask him.

    The drag routines seem to be a particular favorite of the British in general. I think of Benny Hill, or Monty Python, both of which only had actual females when they needed to be cavorting about semi-nude. Otherwise it was guys using their falsettos to be the usually purposely ugly females. My Dad loved to watch both shows.

    He used to tell me that growing up, Christmas wasn't that big of a deal...that Hogmanay was the better holiday. But then he was a tall, dark-haired man, so he'd tour the pubs and get his first drink for free, just so he was the first one in through the door on Jan. 1.

  5. Hi, JP,

    I wonder how many of your readers will know about this tradition of "pantomines". And why are they called "pantomines" if they have spoken dialogue? (Or maybe I've misunderstood. Guess I've got to read your story!)

  6. Fiona's right about Hogmany (new Year's Eve) being a much bigger event than Christmas in Scotland although my family celebrated both - lucky me! I actually worked a panto in Glasgow Pavilion (I think) - amazing audiences - most of them so drunk they'd fall out of their seats.


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