Our quest to experience as much as possible of uniquely British culture during our year here and share it with you led us to yesterday's performance of Robin Hood at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.
Robin Hood is this year's version of something called a pantomime, which we do not have in America. In fact, Americans might be forgiven for thinking the show was entirely performed by silent actors in black and white costumes. But no. The pantomime is a signature British entertainment, popular at Christmastime. We were urged not to pass this by. So, along with the American wife of one of Tim's coworkers, off we went. We were surrounded by groups of school children, so we got an excellent education in how to take in a "panto."
Based on what we saw and heard before and during the show, I can tell you that a pantomime must include, but is not limited to, the following key ingredients:
1. Slapstick humor, and plenty of it. The most crowd-pleasing scene involved nonstop sliding in bucketfuls of blue paint, and sprays of milk flying everywhere. I admit it, that stuff still cracks me up.
2. Copious interaction between the actors and the audience. The play's strength lies not its faithfulness to a historic legend (oh no, anachronistic jokes abounded) or even its fresh, meaningful narrative (not at all!), but the exuberant call-and-response from the stage, including such key traditional lines as:
Actor: "There's WHAT behind me?"
Screaming Children: "A SKELETON!!!!"
Actor: "A SKETELON??"
Children: "NO, A SKELETON!!!!"
Actor: "WELL, WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME???"
Children: "WE DID!!!!!"
Actor: "OH NO YOU DIDN'T!!!"
Children: "OH YES WE DID!!!!"
3. One character in drag -- in this case Nurse Nelly -- who tends to be the most ludicrously dressed and also the most comical character in the play.
4. Audience members being dragged up on stage for public attention or ridicule, depending on how you look at it. (We wisely chose to sit on the balcony.)
5. A villain, who insults the audience members and is loudly boo-ed every time he appears.
6. The purchase and consumption of ice cream cups during intermission.
I will say that this particular pantomime seemed less family-friendly than I expected, in that I just don't find liberal use of the word "sexy," skimpy costumes, lewd-ish jokes and shake-your-booty dancing sprinkled throughout to be either appropriate for kids or entertaining for this particular adult, but I wonder if there's greater tolerance for that sort of thing here or if I just don't tend to run across those situations too often back home. Or if I'm just cocooned by living in the Bible belt. There is that.
Anyway, all in all, good times. We all agreed to being amused not only by the performance on stage but also by the enthusiasm of our fellow audience members, for whom this is clearly a cherished tradition.