December 19, 2017|Reports

“Pantomime and the Role of the Dame” by John Pitman

There was a very full house for the joint Wickham Society / Wickham History Society Christmas meeting on December 5th.

The evening began with a presentation to Maggie and David Smith who are moving to be nearer their family.   Maggie has fulfilled the role of Treasurer of the History Society for over 15 years with great diligence. More recently, David has been a committee member responsible for the new archiving and display cabinets and various IT tasks. And many will have seen them representing WHS at various exhibitions and parish assemblies.

However the main event was a talk by John Pitman on Pantomime and the Role of the Dame. John has acted in pantos for 36 years, 26 of them as ‘the Dame’, mostly based in Otterbourne and Winchester.  His father was a gamekeeper, who helped John’s debut on the stage, aged 9, by providing a stuffed rabbit for his first stage appearance!

John spent most of his stage career in Otterbourne Village Hall but was ‘Ali Baba‘ in a famous production with Winchester Group in 1962.  Later he had a spell formation dancing, competing in ‘Come Dancing’.

John told us of the history and tricks involved in panto – the word comes from ‘panto minos’ meaning to imitate.  John’s favourite part was ‘Buttons’ and he described the ‘glamour’ and evil presentations needed from the Principal Boy, Bad Baron, Dame, etc. Two ‘volunteers’ were persuaded to illustrate typical Pantomime traditions:  the Principal ‘Boy’ slapping his leg, and the traditional “He’s behind you” scene. John was able to persuade the audience join in a community song – complete with moves – for which they were rewarded with sweets!

We learned that the evil characters must always appear from the stage left and good fairies from the right, but neither must be allowed to cross the centreline of the stage.   Costume changes must always use Velcro, not zips, and hecklers need a sharp response.   The Dame always has the last 4 lines to close the show.

Otterbourne normally takes about £18,000 from each annual panto, but expenses are high and include the cost of a professional script, royalties of £90 each performance, and 2% of the income to the Performing Rights Society. On top of these expenses are the costumes, wig hire, scenery, props, and publicity.

So ended a really jolly evening (“Oh yes it was!”), followed by a nibbles and a festive glass !

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