Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

It's... Panto Folklore! Oh Yes It Is.

HAPPY FOLKLORE THURSDAY, BOYS AND GIRLS! And anyone else anywhere they like on the spectrum.

When we discovered that this week's Folklore Thursday theme was THEATRE, we wasted up to a minute trying to think which of our 77 tales were relevant – the welsh harp player in 'Vengeance Will Come'? The play acting of the locals in 'The Wise Folk of Gotham'? Then the obvious occurred – right now we're building up to our second special YULETIDE live Tales of Britain show in Bath this December!

Live performance is so central to our campaign and our book's release, both via our own live shows all over the UK and the live readings we hope all readers will be performing for friends and families when the book arrives in January. So let's take a fresh look at how British folklore has inspired that most puzzling of British seasonal traditions – the PANTOMIME!

As with most folktales, the biggest names still come courtesy of the Grimms, with German legends being retold in the nation's local playhouses, but there are a few panto staples which are entirely home-grown – and we like to make a point of including at least one in our Yule show, to provide a kind of free (our shows tend to be 'Pay What You Feel On Exit') pre-Yule pantomime experience for all.

Britain is responsible for some surprising famous fairytales – Goldilocks and The Three Pigs being great examples – but neither of those stories have really become traditional panto fodder, perhaps due to the lack of a central romance between heteronormative cross-dressing human beings. But if one can be crowbarred into the existing story, it's just the kind of thing to attract the nation's children's TV presenters and soap stars out to the sticks to earn a few annual salaries over the winter months.

Last year, our grand panto closer for the live Yule show was perhaps the greatest of them all – JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. As we've mentioned, this most famous of all tales is by far the longest in our collection (think about it, so much happens!), but last year we ended our Yule show with a full performance, complete with Brother Bernard as Dame and Sister Sal as Jack! We never have much in the way of props, but we were even pleased to find a huge bush in The Bell Inn, our venue, which came in very handy!

On the other hand, I'm no Gary Wilmot...

And then, there's perhaps the oddest mainstream panto of them all – BABES IN THE WOOD.

As detailed in the blog above, this is essentially a horrific Tudor True Crime which became a sentimental folktale... and then, ultimately, somehow, a knockabout farce involving Robin Hood & The Merrie Men. 

However, we're not in a rush to include Babes In The Wood in any Yule show any time soon, as of course our version remains as true as possible to its source material – in fact, so problematic is the legend, we decided to offer readers a choice of finales, including the panto-style Robin Hood happy ending, but it's ultimately such a haunting tale, it's a challenge we have yet to face, to find a way to make it part of the weave and weft of a jolly hour's storytelling at Christmas.

Not least as we can't afford Cannon & Ball. Nor Derek Griffiths, more's the pity.

But the British hero we do have making his debut in a live Tales show this December 15th is... 

DICK WHITTINGTON – that Gloucestershire boy made good in Islington (home of our publishers, Unbound). Again, the true history of medieval London Mayor Richard Whittington has gone through many a perverse permutation in the 500+ years since the real fellow walked the non-gold streets of the metropolis, with added characters like Idle Jack (who has a small role in our retelling), the Spirit of the Bells and the villainous King Rat joining the cast to pad it out to a full evening of reupholstered pop songs, sweetie-throwing, thigh-slapping and a choc-ice at half time. Although the version of the tale you will find in the book when it arrives in the New Year, once again, inclines towards the traditional, it was fun to slip in references to these panto traditions – and for the live version, indeed, we're going to beef those references up somewhat for an extended retelling – including the showdown with the King Rat himself!

So where else would you want to be this Saturday 15th December at 4pm, but The Bell Inn, Bath? There'll be free sweeties, apple-tree-men, ridiculous voices, mild blasphemy and festive folky fun for all the family. Oh yes there will. There really will.

But: no Krankies.

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