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"A Pair Of Pantos steps away from homophobic, transphobic and racist tropes, instead offering a narrative of inclusion and positive representation"
A Pair Of Pantos – a transpositive, all-gender-inclusive, queer pantomime mash-up. Rosie Powell.
I’ve always loved theatre. One of the first shows I saw at a local theatre when I was young, was a pantomime.
I loved the whole theatrical experience so much, that the next year I signed up as one of the children’s chorus. But from an early age I was aware that I was never seeing myself – queer and gender non-confirming – represented on stages.
Stories were always about straight people (especially in children’s theatre), characters were always cis, and there were no spaces carved out for non-heteronormative aspirations.
This is one of the reasons that I became a director primarily, rather than performer – because subconsciously I had absorbed the message that there was no space, especially no visible space like public performance space, for people "like me".
Of course, a parallel reason I became I director was to be able to contribute alternative narratives to the world, offer alternative lenses, widen the scope of what’s out there and what people (including young people) might see. Perhaps it’s one of my ways of fighting back, claiming visibility and celebrating queer narratives.
A Pair Of Pantos is the first time I’ve revisited the form of pantomime since those early days when I was in the children’s chorus.
Have you seen this totally amazing and utterly hilarious trans-positive #pantomime happening #atthemalry this xmas? 18, 19 & 20 Dec, get tickets here for #APairOfPantos: https://t.co/1ODh6MERw2 pic.twitter.com/lgmyOtgvsJ— The Marlborough (@marlboroughbtn) November 19, 2018
It’s a celebration of pantomime – that strange British tradition that sees more people and families come into theatres than at any other time of year, that encourages interaction, and champions silliness and spectacle.
What A Pair Of Pantos does differently from many pantomimes however, is it steps away from lazy homophobic, transphobic and racist tropes and imagery and tries to offer the young audience a narrative of inclusion and positive representation.
Attending pantomimes more recently as an adult with young family members, I was really shocked at how they are still often so regressive in their politics and how they lean on some really damaging and un-thought-through gags.
There are some famously virtuosic pantomime dame performances that come back year after year in the UK, but for every one of those, there are many lazy and problematic pantomime dames whose sole purpose is to suggest that the idea of "a bloke in a dress" is funny in itself – as well as always positioning that character as undesirable and lowly.
This is not good enough at any time – but particularly now when trans people are subjected to verbal and physical violence on a daily basis, this is a dangerous and small-minded joke to perpetuate, however unthinkingly it’s done.
With A Pair Of Pantos, I wanted to make a show for family audiences which embraces the best of panto – the razzle-dazzle, the fun, the community feel – but also offers space and representation for queer families and all people regardless of gender expression or sexuality.
Hester Chillingworth, writer and director of A Pair Of Pantos.
A Pair Of Pantos sees Jack, who is non-binary and lives with their two dads, getting help from Yessica the FairyTransWitchMother, to beat the troublesome King Rat (played by two cis performers, one male, one female, switching throughout the show) who has stolen a valuable chest of drawers, which contains Jack’s favourite non-binary pants.
It’s a warmhearted and energetic tribute to pantomime, for all of us "misfits", "queerdos" and people of any age of who need to see and take part in some non-normative, joyously queer narratives.
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