• York Rotary

He's behind You!

Oh yes he is!! Our very own Mike Fieldsend got us in the mood for pantomime season at our meeting on December 10th

Mike started proceedings by proving, once again, there is no fool like an old fool, by miming to a singing hat! He did then go on to explain how the roots of pantomime went way back to the classical Greek and Roman worlds with their festivals of mayhem and confusion. Medieval Mystery plays also influenced the expectations of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in pantomime – (Good Fairy; Demon King). The Italian Commedia dell’arte was another major precursor, which in England metamorphosed into Harlequinade in the 17th century.

Pantomime really took off in the Georgian period when actors such as Joseph Grimaldi (pictured) made traditionally minor roles, in his case Clown, into star figures that they played for their entire careers. ‘Extravaganzas’ and ‘Burlesque’ introduced elaborate scenery, transformation scenes, and cross-dressing. Gradually the ‘fairy story’ element superseded the harlequinade, so that by the latter part of the 19th century pantomime had taken on the form familiar to us to this day.


Girls played ‘Principal Boy, men played ‘Dame’; there were spectacularly evil ‘Villains’, simpering ‘Good Fairies’, and lovable ‘Animals’.


In the intervening 150 years, Pantomime has had its ups and downs. Until the 1950s every town would have had at least one, often more, pantomimes playing. Major stars took on the leading roles – frequently with mixed success! – but, gradually the number of shows staged each year has reduced.


However, Pantomime, this peculiarly British tradition, soldiers on. Provincial theatres are dependent on revenues generated by their pantomime to finance the rest of their programme.


York has a special place in the history of pantomime, with Berwick Kaler and ‘the gang’ entertaining audiences for over 40 years and still going strong.


Mike concluded his talk in a traditional way. His cry “Pantomime is still going strong – Oh yes it is!” elicited the anticipated response from the floor of “Oh no it isn’t!” He rested his case.


I, Special correspondent Mike (F) can confidently speculated that aspiring thespian Mike (F) has a great future in front of him cleaning up discarded popcorn and sweet wrappers between pantomime performances!


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