Yesterday, St Stephen’s Day, we took two of the grandchildren, plus their cousin, to a matinee of Aladdin at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. What follows isn’t just my weekly blast of hot air. Later today I’ll be writing to the theatre to let them know my opinion. This is just by way of a little warm-up at the epistolary barre.
As my regular reader knows, I have some experience of pantomime. I saw my first one 55 years ago and have since seen more of them than I can count. I’ve written and directed several too. The production we saw yesterday appalled me on several counts. I’ll lay aside the fact that every scene contained references to TV shows. I may as well. I know that this is now the norm and to rail against it is a bit like complaining the theatres are no longer gas-lit.
My more important objections are 1) to the amplification of music to the point where my ears buzzed and rang long after the curtain came down. If it did that to me what must it have done to tender five-year old ears? And 2) to the amount of sexual innuendo in a show intended for family audiences. It was in the jokes, it was in the Dame’s costume, and it was in the choreography. Agreed, double-entendres are part of the pantomime tradition, but the worst they ever used to get was lavatorial, which of course small children love. Sex is something else.
Here’s the paradox: that in an era when, as never before, society is on Paedophile Alert, children are being dressed like little adults and allowed to watch and hear things they should not. Someone said to me ‘but it sails over their heads’. Well, the precise meaning may escape them but not the sniggering implication. And anyway, don’t we have to decide once and for all whether children deserve a childhood or that it really doesn’t matter if they’re doing pelvic thrusts from the age of five? It’s a decision you get only one chance of per child, that’s for sure. Rob a child of its innocence and you can no more give it back than you can push toothpaste back in the tube.
So I award nul points to script-writer Paul Elliott and likewise to the director, Daryn Crosbie. Which is a crying shame because the Gaiety is a gem of a theatre and I would have liked yesterday to become an unsullied childhood memory. I’m mad and sad, in equal measure.