It’s the pantomime season – oh yes it is! That peculiarly British tradition in which everyone looks grotesque, no one is quite what they seem, the audience works as hard as the cast and bad jokes abound. I LOVE it, and this year I’m thoroughly enjoying being in our local production of Puss in Boots. My character is a baddy which is particularly fun; lots of sneering at the audience – very different to running a Springboard programme, I promise you!

Thinking what to write about today I keep coming back to the pantomime and wondering whether there’s some interesting life lesson to be drawn from such a load of silly nonsense. There are the obvious observations, of course: the goodies always win, the baddies get their come-uppance, characters can always find the energy for a quick song and dance even when everything is against them – you know the conventions. But as those of us who live in the real world know all too well, sometimes the good guys don’t get a happy outcome, and the baddies do seem to ‘get away with it’ quite often.

So, what does pantomime give us as a useful takeaway into the New Year?

For starters, let me tell you a not-so-secret. What the audience sees isn’t always precisely what we intended you to!

Sometimes that’s because of unpredictable audience participation – a heckle, or an unexpected reaction to a gag. Sometimes there may be a scenery or prop malfunction. Sometimes it’s because the dialogue gets a bit…umm…free-range, and when that happens it can be most entertaining to see how the cast work their way skilfully back to the right place in the script.

And the wonderful thing about pantomime is that, unlike with Shakespeare, the audience doesn’t mind one bit when it all goes wrong. If anything, the cast gets an even bigger laugh by ad-libbing around the mistake, and those ad-libs will often get adopted into the next performance. At the heart of everything is one Big Truth: Pantomime exists to amuse and entertain, and generous dames and villains honour that noble cause, even at the risk of losing their own dignity (or what little they may have!).

What that leads me to think is this: however much in our own lives we try to follow a well-rehearsed script, at some point someone is going to feed us the wrong line, or knock over a prop, or trip us up. We must then decide how to deal with that.

We could, metaphorically speaking, stand up in front of the audience, point accusingly at someone else and have a hissy fit – and that will never win us any friends. (BOO! HISS!). Or we could ignore the hiccup and with steely resolve take ourselves back to the last point where it was all going well, and soldier on from there.

Or we could do what all good pantomime dames do: look at what opportunities the situation has given us, and milk it for all it’s worth. You see, I reckon when life delivers us a missed cue, a pratfall or an unruly member of the audience, that’s when to get creative with the ad-libbing. And just like pantomime, you’ll be surprised at the unscripted laughs and outcomes that present themselves as you work towards your happy ending.

Rebecca Winn

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