Pantomime again

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On the 10th day of Christmas…

I said I would only do it once, but I’m involved in the village pantomime again….for the 7th time. Try as I might, I can never get the role that is furthest away from me: the evil baddie- I am sure there is a Freudian thing going on there. When I audition for macho roles, people laugh… & I end up being cast as The Dame. I am not complaining: I love it: for someone who can’t really act, it is an honour.

Each year I do it, I realise how heavily dependent you are on each other: not just the people on stage, but everyone involved. But is it fantastic: you get to be someone else and when it is over, you can walk away. It connects you with others and with your village in a different way.

I’ve written blogs on panto before: essentially I am just repeating myself. However, this year it feels different- as I have let go of so much (see the last few blogs), I don’t feel so much this year that I am ‘juggling’ (apart from the normal juggling of work, home, family life etc); I’ve enjoyed rehearsing more, I seem to know my lines more (but we’ll see once it starts on Friday...), I feel more ‘present’ and I no longer feel like an ignoramus who has no clue as to what is going on.

One big thing I have appreciated since leaving full time church ministry is ‘space’- mental space- and practical space. I no longer have to contemplate 3,4, 5 evenings out before I can contemplate any space for me or my family.

I would struggle to write that even 3 years ago: there, as there are ministers around who indulge in a kind of ‘4 Yorkshireman’ thing: ‘OOO…only 5 evenings, well let me tell you how much I’ve been out in the last 2 months….’ And I am still part of on line groups where some ministers struggle with giving themselves any space.

I am hoping that a break from blogging continues this mood of feeling I have more ‘space’, or when I do something to be able to fully concentrate on it without wondering how I can fit another evening in.

But for now, it is ‘break a leg time:- Friday pm, Sat afternoon and then Wed-Sat evenings (and a Saturday afternoon) next week. After that, it is all over, unless you audition next time of course, if I do….. (ok, when…)



‘I will miss it now.’

By & large that was the reaction with most people who were involved with our local pantomime after we had finished on Saturday.

There is something healing & therapeutic about being involved with a group of people of disparate gifts and abilities all working towards a common goal. Out of that- eventually- comes idle chatter, banter and sharing of lives: community. Of course there is bitchiness, misunderstanding and falling out- ‘community’ encompasses those things as well.

I will miss it, but my first reaction on Sunday morning was to mentally work out where else ‘community’ would be happening in my week: I need community to be ‘me’. Fortunately I made it to church & then I am leading Beaver Scouts tonight (and meeting with leaders later tonight and tomorrow). And then comes Friday, where I hope to be spending some hours with friends at The Bay Horse.

I think we all need community: latterly advertisers have cottoned on to it: if I see another advert full of hip 20 somethings living in urban loft apartments, festooned with luxury goods & driving eye wateringly expensive cars, I may well write a passive aggressive blog post about it. The (un)subtle message is ‘Buy our products and you can have a life like this…..until we release a newer version that is’. Sometimes human relationships/friendship groups can be constructed around this- you can be part of us/close to us, but only if you can consume like we do.

Whilst I am still attracted to the advertisers vision: it is so seductive….. In my better days I know which version of community that I want to be part of and which is more satisfying.

Mind you; I still miss dressing up, uttering double entendres, running around on stage and people paying money to watch…


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The last 2 performances of the village pantomime for 2016 are today. I am in Act 1 in the chorus and the latter stages of Act2 as an over the top, double entendre spouting ugly sister.

7 things I have learned (or relearned):-

(1) Those who can sing and dance at the same time have some kind of black magic. I can do the former: the latter escapes me however hard I try.

(2) I know enough now with acting, that those who do it professionally are incredibly gifted. I am not. I just like being loud and random. The sillier the costume, the more I can get away with it.

(3) The people who do the most work in putting on a village panto are rarely seen on stage.

(4) The shared ritual of pantomime beings people together. It does not work without an audience who are ‘up for it’.

(5) It is the nearest thing to Mardi Gras that the repressed English have: it is the only time that men can pretend to be women, women men and for people to randomly (and with no continuity) break into song.

(6) No matter what the pantomime, the plot is the same.

(7) It is fun: lots of fun. I miss it when it is gone.


I always thought that this pantomime would be my last: if I had stayed in the Methodist system, I would have been moving this July/August. Now I have left, I could well be here for much, much longer: excuse me whilst I write the dates for the September auditions in my diary….

Break a leg!

I have met leaders who only really seem to talk to other leaders. Having a real kind of relationship (apart from ‘me parent, you child’) with someone below them is too threatening. Anyone outside that leadership circle is subordinate: at worst they rebel, ‘do not see the visiion’, ‘need help’ or are just obstructive; unable to see things as clearly as the leader.

Ok: maybe an exaggeration, but it highlights the need to realise that it is not just you who contributes to the ‘success’ of anything (I cringe inwardly, and sometime outwardly when a vicar/priest/pastor/says ‘I turned this church around).

Each time I do panto I am reminded of this. At first I was so nervous, I just concentrated on getting the lines right (never managed that yet) and being less wooden than the scenery. Then, as I realised more of what was going on and how some things just seemed to ‘turn up’, I came to see that what happens on the stage is a minor part of the whole procedings. That is not an exaggeration: it would be nothing with props, costumes, lighting, directions, scenery. But there are also the large number of people who know the tradition, have been around for years and watching you do hesitatingly do roles that they did years ago.

The Good Book does talk about never getting puffed up with pride and how true leaders are servants. Sometimes it needs a panto to wake you up to that.

Oh no it’s not!

PANTO CAST: The Hutton Rudby team prepare for their first night.

You learn a script. You keep learning a script as your brain gets addled. Then you go onto a stage and the director tells you where to move to and how to alter what you are doing. You go through this several times. Sometimes you just focus on one scene until you get it right. Then you add costumes and costume changes until you think it is ready.

It all changes when ther is an audience. Sometimes they laugh in unexpected places. Sometimes they don’t laugh at all. Sometimes saying the same line in the same tone but moving differently gets a reaction. Sometimes altering intonation works.

You have to learn the art of ‘faithful improvisation’- too far off script and it becomes indulgent and something it is not. Too slavish and it becomes drained of life and sterile. This faithful improvisation is uncertain and a tricky combination of cast, audience, knowing the plot well and what happens in the moment. When it works, even at my amateur level, it is thrilling and full of life. But attempting it carries risks: it could go wrong or fall flat.

And with a continuity gear change that is almost unbelieveable, I have met preachers, churches, panto casts, you name it that are incapable of faithful improvistaion.

He’s behind you!

I have just finished my involvement in the village pantomime for this year. I had a smaller role than before but I enjoyed it so much. I had a psychological need to be a ‘baddy’: indeed that was my aim when I first auditioned 5 pantomimes ago.

It struck me how much pantomime is part of a living ritual. It is not quite drama and not quite comedy, although it includes elements of both. It is more like shared ritual and works best when cast and audience realise that.

If the cast step back, it does not work: it needs people to go beyond normal standards of acting and sometimes ham it up. The more unbelievable, the more it works.

If the audience come and sit there and expect to be entertained without participating, it falls flat. Panto scripts follow the same narrative arc, they are full of plot holes, unbelievable situations, double entendres etc. To work, the audience have to be engaged and participate. If they don’t- it falls flat: there has to be a symbiotic realtionship between those at the front and those watching.

…which I guess is a bit like church: turn up and expect a show and …well it all becomes a bit crap really.


I haven’t put anything on this year about the village pantomime. Not that it isn’t good: for a village pantomime I think it is excellent: high quality production values, stunning scenery, great singing and dancing & all By amateurs. It has been partly as other things have crowded my head: debating over whether to change jobs, getting a new one and the difficult process of trying to find a home (still unresolved). Maybe also as my role is a small one ; although given these last few months, I am grateful for that- I valued the space.

But it is on its second performance this afternoon. It is no secret; I love it- the chance to be part of a large group delivering something that amuses others, being part of a community, getting to be with a group of different people and hear their stories. etc etc. I could continue…

I play the world’s most camp robber cheif. True; I manage a gruffish cockney accent, but it is pantomime- that is the way of the genre. Don’t fight it….

NB: After this afternoon, it is on Thurs and Fri evenings, Sat aft & evening next week- tickets still avaialable!

Watching myself

(…on second thoughts: this does make me squirm..)

So I sat and watched myself last night.

Well, not just me: I watched the full film of the village panto- the AmDram society do this every year once the production has finished and the props packed away. This year, as t last year, the guy that filmed us is a professional so the quality was good.

It is a salutary experience watching yourself on film. Some people said good things about my role since the production: watching me, I really wasn’t so sure. I seem to have spent most of the filming and the meal with my hands in front of my face. Something I thought was ok at the time was very different through the unforgiving eye of the camera.

And it got me thinking: if something as rehearsed as that did not look so good, what about the everyday actions that seem so right and good (I do suffer from delusions) to me if they are filmed and played back? What would they look like then?


(Full set of pictures & article at

Today is last day of 7 performances of the annual Hutton Rudby Pantomime (2 are today). For a village of around 2500 to support 7 performances and have well over 900 people coming to see them is quite something.

I could do a thoughtful blog on how as a minister in a small community you would be daft not to get involved in such a major cultural event in where you live, move and have your being. Alternatively, I could take another tack: how the performers on stage are nothing without the legions who help dress, design staging, direct, make tea, do make up, have the vision etc and apply to how Christian community works best….

…on second thoughts no….

… I will concentrate on being camp, wringing the last shred of innuendo out of the numerous double entendres and wildly overacting.

And also enjoying myself so much…

To boldly go…


(That was last year: in case you got tired of looking at me as a woman. I progressed in a year from being a rat to being a woman)

Years back I remember hearing someone who worked in interfaith relations at a national level. I wasn’t sure what I thought about interfaith work back then, but something she said stuck with me: ‘Come so close to someone of another faith; listen to them so much that there is a risk of you being converted by them.’

It speaks to me more and more. Humans love their warmth and safety; there are few who find it easy to ‘go beyond’, and as we age it is harder. Not suprisingly many of us who follow Jesus do the same. As a minister, it is easy to interpret your responsibility to make known the Kingdom to becoming almost church based; the only time you go ‘outside’ is when you do the occasional offices: births, marriages and deaths. And this is not really ‘outside’- you still have the security of role. It is easy to understand why: we move locations and the burden and pressure of work is overwhelming; there is always something else that can be done (and my denomination’s love of paperwork & meetings is incredible: but that is another story….)…

I have been fortunate living here to have opportunities to do just that- to be around in villages as a rev, but always trying to make space to be around people whose first call is not church. Apart from being addicted to the stage, that was one of my motivations for Panto- being around people who don’t do ‘church’ and having no office or safety to cling onto. And I learned loads and I heard loads and I was challenged loads.

But you know what? I absolutely loved it.

Tonight: last gathering of the cast as we watch the video of the performance: I have never seen the whole performance before. That will be cringeworthy- I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, let alone images of me. It will be bittersweet: the disolving of a (temporary) community.