Theatre editor Steve Cramer runs a wary eye over this year’s most popular pantos, with a view to uncovering some deep seated neuroses.
Well, we’ve only ourselves to blame. If we, as adults, persist in dragging our children along to pantos and Christmas shows, what grounds do we have to complain that they turn out to be twisted and violent? The stories themselves seem to display an unparalleled capacity to display humankind in its worst possible moral and social light. A glance down the list of pantos on offer this season only serves to confirm our desire to give the kids a rough start in life.
The most popular this year seems to be Cinderella, with four productions that I know of. Originating from China in the 9th century, the original title could roughly be translated as The Girl with the Smallest Feet in the Land. Small feet were seen as a sign of beauty in China at the time, perhaps the reason for the painful practice of foot binding, which became an emblem of female oppression over subsequent centuries. I’ve seen many productions of this grim tale down the years, but the one that still sears my memory occurred some years back, featuring a petite, pretty and inevitably blonde Cinderella with the biggest pair of feet I’ve ever seen on a girl.
One only noticed this in the glass slipper scene, where, extending her leg for the Prince’s glass slipper, Cinders appeared to be wearing not so much a shoe as the box it came in. The slippers themselves had clearly been designed for her; each might have proved a spacious home for any number of goldfish, but our prince still visibly struggled to get them on to her ruddy great plates. It would be nice to think that this piece of casting was a liberating gesture against patriarchal oppression, but the story seems to have a deleterious effect on young girls for all that.
So much so, that two psychological conditions have been named after the story. The Cinderella Complex, some psychiatrists hold, creates passive aggressive attitudes in girls, leading them to behave in a continuously helpless manner, seeking help from other folk, usually male, in the simplest of tasks. It also leads to exaggerated expectations from life - men must be princes, the home should be a castle, and so forth. When the inevitable financial and emotional realities of life surface the result is collapse. Those who are able to indulge in the fantasy are even worse. Look at Jordan’s wedding, which must have occupied a massive amount of man hours for an entire taste police task force.
The Cinderella Syndrome, on the other hand, a condition identified by psychologists, sees children accuse step parents of all sorts of misdemeanour and persecution. New mothers get treated to the allegations that Mazzaratti made to Zidane, frequently with similarly unfortunate results. Quite aside from this, I suppose these days, the central symbol of the slipper will only add to these young girls acquiring the insatiable appetite for shoes so characteristic of their elder sisters.
The other biggy this season is Aladdin, with another four productions. I’ve yet to see a post colonial reading of this text on stage, and with Jack the lad Straw seeking to peek under the veils, like the protagonist of this story, of Islamic princesses, we’re unlikely to see one. With the authorities seeking to impose a dress code to being British, one hopes, but against hope, that this tale of Syrian origin will open a few eyes. Let’s wait and see.
See listings for a panto or Christmas show near you. Reviews next issue.