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Sexist japes are behind us, says panto boss

Michael Harrison (pictured with Kathryn Rooney) told me that following the allegations of serious sexual misconduct, he and his colleagues began studying panto scripts and gags

Seasonal pantomimes will have a little less sauce this year because of the furore over inappropriate behaviour.

‘I think you do have to look harder at what you’re doing,’ said Michael Harrison, a producer and director of the London Palladium’s all-star Dick Whittington, featuring Julian Clary, Elaine Paige, Charlie Stemp, Emma Williams and Gary Wilmot.

Harrison’s also directing Cinderella, with Beverley Knight, at the Birmingham Hippodrome; and Peter Pan in Newcastle, with Danny Adams.

He told me that following the allegations of serious sexual misconduct against prominent entertainment figures such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, and the debate about how some men have been able to get away with predatory behaviour, he and his colleagues began studying panto scripts and gags.

Uppermost on his mind, he said, as we observed rehearsals at the Palladium, was an old-fashioned routine, made famous by Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, called ‘The Wall’… in which a comic would put his head through a dummy wall and ‘turn and look up the skirt of the famous star’. Or a star actress would be pushed off a table, and her skirt would fly up.

   

More from Baz Bamigboye for the Daily Mail…

‘I said nobody could do that,’ Harrison said. ‘That just feels wrong, with everything that’s going on,’ he added, noting that although those scenes were never in the Palladium show, they’ve been removed from a few of the 30-plus pantos produced by the Qdos group around the UK.

‘There’ll be no looking up skirts — and nobody’s going to be slapping anybody on the bottom. The times they are a changin’.’

After a moment’s reflection, he pointed out that in panto, if there’s anything suggestive and a female character is involved, it’s usually a dame — a man dressed as a woman — ‘so it doesn’t kind of have the same feel as if it actually was a lady’.

Of course, there will still be some sauciness and it was on full display at the Palladium. Clary, the king of innuendo, was having some fun with Whittington’s name: repeatedly referring to Charlie Stemp (playing the title character) as ‘Richard’.

A pinch of spice: Charlie Stemp as Dick Whittington during the theatre show. Of course, there will still be some sauciness and it was on full display at the Palladium

A pinch of spice: Charlie Stemp as Dick Whittington during the theatre show. Of course, there will still be some sauciness and it was on full display at the Palladium

‘You don’t like Dick any more?’ Stemp inquired innocently.

As choreographer Karen Bruce put the cast through a dance number, Harrison went through some of the jokes being used. ‘They’re saucy and politically incorrect . . . if you want political correctness, stay away!

‘But we are being sensitive to anything that might be deemed inappropriate when physicality is involved,’ Harrison said.

All hail George III and Hamilton!

The monarch was in the room where it was happening, and he made his presence felt.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your King!’ came the authoritative tones of Michael Jibson as George III, commanding the audience to put their phones on silent and ‘enjoy my show’.

And the people, packed into every single seat at the Victoria Palace on Wednesday night for the first preview of the much ballyhooed musical Hamilton, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, obeyed.

Later, when Jibson sang a number reminding the Americans that despite ‘our estrangement’, they’ll be back, the UK crowd roared their approval (at a much high level than their cousins did when the show originated at the Public Theater in New York).

Director Thomas Kail and his team have blinged the king up a bit, with a glittering medal and ankle sparklers. The vibe from the circle, where I sat, suggested that old George was going to grab those colonies right back again — and give them a good talking to.

The quality of the cast was far higher than many had expected. Giles Terera’s Aaron Burr — a revolutionary statesman who clashed with Alexander Hamilton — gave Burr a flavour I hadn’t felt before. And Jamael Westman’s portrait of title character gave us a founding father who was a fiercer rapper and dancer than his predecessors (including Mr Miranda).

Some acquaintances in the house on Wednesday had expressed worry that Hamilton was just over-hyped nonsense. But they were soon texting me about how much they loved it.

Even so, the creative team had notes for the cast — par for the course after a first preview — and by the official first night on December 21 they should be even more electrifying.

Meanwhile, Cameron Mackintosh told me his team had found room for 40 more seats in the stalls. Expensive ones. The impresario said there were all manner of ways to find tickets from the top price (around the £200 mark) down to £10 bargains. ‘A lot have been held back, and there are weekly lotteries and other ways of accessing them,’ he said.

And they don’t all cost a king’s ransom.

Watch out for…

Michael Shannon, who is in talks to play an Israeli agent in The Little Drummer Girl

Michael Shannon, who is in talks to play an Israeli agent in The Little Drummer Girl

Michael Shannon, who is in talks to play an Israeli agent in the BBC TV drama series based on John le Carre’s 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl.

This column was first to tell you about director Park Chan-wook’s six-part adaptation of Le Carre’s story of Charlie: a young British actress persuaded to join what’s termed the ‘theatre of the real’ by Mossad spy chief Kurtz — the part Shannon might play — and become a double agent to help track down a Palestinian terrorist. Kurtz and his team create an elaborate back story to help Charlie infiltrate the terrorists, led by the enigmatic Khalil.

Florence Pugh will be playing Charlie. Ms Pugh is up for a best actress honour at Sunday night’s British Independent Film Awards for her role in director William Oldroyd’s much garlanded Lady Macbeth. She also just finished filming King Lear with Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Emily Watson for Richard Eyre and producer Colin Callender (it will air on BBC2 next year).

Shannon, meanwhile, will be seen with the brilliant Sally Hawkins in Guillermo del Toro’s visual poem The Shape Of Water (out on February 16), which is one of several strong contenders for a best picture Oscar.



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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