Jon Sowden
(Babes in the Wood - 2002)

The Willow Tree Theatre Company continues to demonstrate its amazing versatility with this year's production of Babes in the Wood.  Not a pantomime?! Oh, yes it is! The many skills of its members are brought together here in musical, seasonal entertainment; the ultimate blend of song, dance, satire, spectacle and magic.

There is no such thing as 'traditional' pantomime.  Panto has always been, since the first recognisable versions (in the seventeen hundreds) an ever-changing, glorious, eccentric ragbag of talents, topicality and invention and that's why we, the British, love it.

The characters, in pantomime, are like no others and they arrived there for very different reasons.  The long-legged, thigh-slapping Principle Boy (though the actress in 'drag' has ancient forebears) was really introduced so that Victorian Dads could get an eyeful when, in real life, the flash of an ankle was enough to raise eyebrows and expectations!

The Dame, the man in 'drag' was an even older excuse to enable rude things to be done to a lady who wasn't really a lady.
The Buttons / Idle Jack character (and, in this production, the two robbers) is simply the five year old anarchist to be found in every man in the audience.
A 'serious' actor has always played the Baddy and even Kean and Garrick played the villain in pantomime.

Since the early seventeen hundreds when John Rich, an actor who made up for a speech defect with his physical prowess, played the hero Harlequin in wordless, acrobatic Christmas shows, pantomime has continuously changed.  In the late eighteenth century the Clown became the starbecause of Joseph Grimaldi.  His catch phrase was "Here we are again" and his influence continues to this day.

A Hundred years later Dan Leno (1861 - 1904) "The Funniest Man on Earth" topped the bill at the Drury Lane Theatre each Christmas season for sixteen years.  This was under the governorship of the legendary Augustus Harris who, tiring of the long, boring moral tales that pantomime had become, placed music hall stars in his productions, thus providing the formula that is still used when casting professional pantomime to this day.

The Willow Tree Theatre Company has, once again, risen magnificently to yet another challenge.  Look out for their next production.  Who knows what they will turn their hand to next?

Enjoy the show!

Jon Sowden