I should warn you, that if you’re not English (or at least have lived in England for many years) this blog may well make absolutely no sense to you at all. For it takes as its central theme, the cross dressing antics of the pantomime, a particularly English type of theatre experience.
Anyway, in most years at around about this time, I usually get involved in a pantomime or two – and please don’t – no, stop it – oh go on then, get it out of your systems –
“Oh no you don’t”!!
There, are you happy now?
As I was saying before you naughty boys and girls interrupted me, I’m involved with a panto or two. I work backstage and do techie things, I don’t dress up and perform (at least not until the after-show party and even then it’s more likely to be UNdress and perform).
And yesterday I was training my follow-spot light on Dick Whittington, the principle male character, who was, as is tradition, played by a girl. I was enjoying watching her parade about in her tiny shorts and long leather boots and giving her thigh the occasional pantomime slap. And I must admit she looked extremely gorgeous. A lesser man may have weakened and lusted unprofessionally.
But, and it’s a very big but (no I don’t mean she has a big butt, she doesn’t, it’s a very nice butt, well I haven’t looked, I mean, what do you take me for, some sort of pervert)?
No, the thing is, her cross-dressing is hardly ever the subject of comedy. There’s nothing “camp” about a girl dressing as a boy and adding elements of male behaviour to her performance. It’s simply accepted by the audience with hardly a titter.
But then there’s the dame. There’s always a pantomime dame and of course, “she” is always played by a man. The character is embellished with as much “campness” as it’s possible to muster. From her costumes, to her songs, to her demeanour, to her, quite frankly desperate attempts to get off with every leading male character, there is nothing feminine about the role. And, it’s hilarious (for the most part and if done well).
But why is that? A woman dresses and behaves like a man and it’s not funny. A man dresses and behaves like a woman (admittedly like no woman I’ve ever met) and it’s funny.
I suppose the correct question to ask could be “why is that part written as comedy, whereas Dick isn’t”?
I’m not complaining, it works very well (assuming you like the whole panto thing of course).
If I was to tell you that I thought someone to be “camp” I suspect you’d immediately assume I was speaking of a male. I guess the opposite of “camp” might well be “butch”, but that hardly encourages comedy.
So is panto, essentially, sexist? And if it is, do we care?