A Night at the Pantomime


One of the Christmas traditions we still hold on to in the UK is that of the yearly pantomime – or ‘panto’, as it is often called. Last year, we decided to make our first visit to the pantomime in many years, and headed into Lincoln to see Aladdin at the New Theatre Royal.

Having enjoyed it so much, we decided to see if this year’s production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was as much fun. We weren’t disappointed. Unfortunately, as last year, we weren’t allowed to take any photos once the production had started, but we were told it would be okay to take photos from around the theatre once all the spectators had left. This photo of the stage screen (for want of the correct name) was taken before the show started, and because it doesn’t show any people, I decided it should be okay:

These are a few more  photos from around the theatre and foyer:

The New Theatre Royal is a very special place to the people of Lincoln. The Victorian theatre was built in 1893 on the site of a previous theatre built in 1806 which had been destroyed by fire. (The old, 1806 theatre was, in turn, a rebuild of an even older Lincoln  theatre built in 1764 – though not on the same site.) The 1893 theatre was falling rapidly into a state of disrepair when the current owners bought it in 2016. After extensive refurbishment and modernisation, this Grade II listed building now looks fabulous.  Snow White is the third pantomime produced here since the theatre was restored – the interior design created to resemble the 1893 interior as closely as possible. We didn’t take any photos of the outside, but I found this one on Wikipedia:

Frontage of the New Theatre Royal, Lincoln. 2 Feb. 2017. Source/Author: New Theatre Royal

We were also told we could take photos from the brochure, so here are three of the cast – a mix of professional actors and comedians, resident stars and local groups.

So, what exactly is a pantomime, and what can we expect when we go to see one?

The actual word pantomime is formed from two words: panto+mime, which means ‘all kinds’ of ‘mime’. It is a type of musical comedy designed for family entertainment. In many countries outside of Britain, pantomime usually refers to mime alone, whereas here it includes songs, bawdy jokes, slapstick, topical humour and dancing, all wrapped around the telling of a story, loosely based on a well-known fable, fairy story or folk tale. Some of the most popular stories include Cinderella, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Dick WhittingtonJack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Babes in the  Wood and Peter Pan. They are performed over the Christmas and New Year season in many towns and cities across the UK, as well as a few other English speaking countries and France. Some of the larger, city theatres employ professional actors, but there are many pantomimes produced by smaller theatres and amateur dramatic societies.

Pantomime has a long history in Western culture, dating back to the classical theatre. It is generally accepted that British pantomime stems from the masques of Tudor and Stuart times. In the 14th century, masques were performed in the large houses of the rich and were either spoken dramas or musical mime. The timing of the British pantomime at Christmas – with the principal  boy played by a girl and the Dame by a man – may have originated in the Feast of Fools in Tudor times. This was presided over by the ‘Lord of Misrule’ and involved much drinking and rowdy merrymaking.

Hare chasing, riding a dog. Medieval tile found at the Friary Derby, UK. Source: The Reliquary, vol 3 no.2 Oct 1862. Author: Llewellynn Jewitt. Public Domain

The idea of the selection of the Lord of Misrule himself is thought to have originated in the days of mighty Rome, when masters allowed servants to be in charge for a while during the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia. The result? Chaos reigned.

There is so much more to the history of pantomime than I have outlined here – from the days of Roman pantomime at Saturnalia to the origins of a 17th century French comic genre called the Harlequinade. The latter is the part of a pantomime in which the characters of the Harlequin and Clown play the main parts. Until the 19th century, the harlequinade was an important part of British pantomime. For anyone interested, there are many online sites to delve into.

Pantomime F Warne & Co. 1890. Author: User Wetman on en Wikipedia. Public Domain

Pantomime contains certain key elements that spectators expect to see in every performance. In addition to a strong story line, slapstick (custard pies, silly costumes etc.) and music and dance, a few of those elements are:

        • Audience participation. This usually includes the audience booing the villain every time he/she appears, shouting out ‘He’s behind you!’ when a wolf or villain arrives on stage and taking part in the two-way argument: ‘Oh yes he is!’ .  . . ‘Oh no it isn’t!’
        • Goodies and baddies – and the villain is always defeated by the end of the show. Baddies include characters like Captain Hook in Peter Pan and the Wicked Queen in Snow White. The goodies all live ‘happily ever after’.
        • A group of juveniles, generally as singers and dancers, but not always. It the version of Snow White that we saw, youngsters played the seven dwarfs, although there were a few older ‘teenagers’ amongst the dancers.
        • Comical fights and chases, during which the audience warning shouts of ‘He’s behind you’ come into play.
        • Role reversal/gender-crossing actors – men dressed as women and women as men. Examples of men dressed as women are Widow Twankey in Aladdin , and the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. Also in Cinderella we have a woman playing a male called ‘Buttons’.
        • A key, gender-crossing character in every pantomime is the ‘Dame’, a man outrageously dressed as a woman and whose performance is exaggerated and extravagant. Widow Twankey in Aladdin and  and Nurse Flossy in Snow White are examples, as is this ‘large’ female from an 1887 production of Babes in the Wood. I’ll make no comment regarding the appearance of the ‘child’ other than, ‘Oink, oink’!
          Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell in costume for the 1897 pantomime, The babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Source: The Sketch, Illustrated London News, 19 January 1898. Public Domain.
          • The Dame is generally played by an oldish, unattractive man who interacts with the two principal characters and is instrumental to the plot and the happy ending. It is thought that role reversal may have also evolved from the ‘Feast of Fools’ of Tudor times, in which the Lord of Misrule created an unruly, raucous event involving role reversal, a lot of drinking and noisy festivities. As I mentioned above, the whole idea probably originated in the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The New Theatre Royal continues to be a popular venue in Lincoln. There are shows during the year, and in 2019 they kick off with The Variety Show on January 26 and The Wizard of Oz over the Easter period (April 13-23). And next Christmas, we can look forward to the pantomime, Robin Hood, for which bookings can already be made! Yes, pantomime continues to be a popular as ever in Lincoln – and by no means is the New Theatre Royal the only place to see one – but it is nice and comfortable, and full of old world charm…

The Battle of Lincoln Fair (1): Preparations

I’ve written a few posts about visits and events connected to Lincoln Castle over the past couple of years, including the wonderful, German-style Christmas Market held annually in the castle grounds. But perhaps the most important events of recent years were in 2015, which focused on the 800 year anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runneymede in 1215.

19th century coloured wood engraving of king John signing the Magna Carta. Public Domain

That Lincoln should become so involved with the Magna Carta anniversary is understandable, since one of only four of the remaining original documents from Runneymede is held at Lincoln Castle – on loan from Lincoln Cathedral. Two are held at the British Library and one at Salisbury Cathedral.

The Magna Carta anniversary involved lots of events throughout the summer in Lincoln, including the Barons’ Trail and the amazing sand sculptures displayed in the castle bailey. They all did wonders for tourism in the city and gave everything a very holiday feel.

This year, Lincoln is celebrating another anniversary, that of the Battle of Lincoln Fair (also known as the Second Battle of Lincoln) which took place in and around Lincoln Castle in 1217. This event is also linked to the infamous King John, even though he’d died the previous year.

This event is being held over two separate weekends and we went along to the first part  yesterday, Sunday May 21. This one was held in the castle bailey and presented the  preparations for battle. The second part, the actual reenactment of the battle itself, will be next weekend from Saturday to Monday, May 27-29 (Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK).

As with the Barons’ Trail of 2015, this anniversary is made fun for the city and its many visitors by having a Knights’ Trail throughout the central areas of the city. It’s a great activity for kiddies (and adults!) to hunt all 37 of the knights out. The knights are already in place, and we started photographing them yesterday. I hope to do a post about them all soon. The photo of Nicola de la Haye (or Nicholaa de la Haye, according to some sources) at the top of this post is one of them.

I don’t intend to do a full post about Lincoln Castle itself here: that’s set for a future date. But I’ll just say a little about it before I show photos of the event.

Lincoln Castle was built in 1068 on the orders of William the Conquerer. It stand on the site of the Roman fortress and settlement of Lindum Colonia (which dates from around AD60) in ‘uphill Lincoln’. This elevated position ensures the castle has commanding views of the surrounding countryside and can also be seen for miles  – as can the nearby Cathedral. It is probable that, prior to the Roman fort, a Celtic settlement once occupied the site, which I’ll discuss another time.

The castle at Lincoln was one of the finest Norman castles in the country. It consists of an outer curtain wall (with an excellent Wall Walk along the top) along which are two gates – the East and West Gates, the former having a barbican, or fortified entrance. Three towers stand along the walls, two of them built on top of mottes (mounds or small hills, often man-made for the purpose). The two towers sitting on mottes are the Lucy Tower and the Observatory Tower, the one without a motte is Cobb Hall, at the north-east corner of the wall.

Inside the curtain wall is a large bailey (courtyard) in which there are three buildings of more recent origins. The first part of the Old Prison dates from 1788 and was completed in 1848. The Court House, which is still used today, dates from 1826, and the Heritage Skills Centre is a real baby, having only been officially opened in 2013. It’s  the only new building within the castle walls for 150 years. It lies immediately behind the Law Courts:

Here are a few more photos of the castle, most taken from the Wall Walk. Some look down at the bailey, one or two at places beyond the castle, others along the wall itself:

I’ll save the detail and views inside the different towers for another time.

Tents and stalls were set up in the bailey for this event. Some of the attractions included ‘having a go’ at archery and instruction on the use and importance of  the crossbow. A  number of stalls showed foods and weapons of the time and there were birds of prey trained for hunting on display. We missed the actual presentation of the different birds of prey as we were up on top of the wall at the time. Still, we heard the falconer announce that he couldn’t allow the birds to fly at present because of the peregrines nesting on the cathedral – who would see his birds as competition and we could end up witnessing an airborne battle!

Here are a few photos of attractions and displays from around the Bailey, from ground level:

And here are a few of two of the demonstrations we watched. The fist was of knights (comically) preparing for battle.

The second was of three mounted knights displaying their skills in attacking their opponents – one of the ‘opponents’ being a cabbage, which represented the head of a Norman knight. 😀 The smaller of the three horses was included to demonstrate the type of horse/pony used prior to Norman times. It’s the type that was used by the Vikings and is the only breed to be found in Iceland today.

Finally, here are a few photos of Nicola de la Haye (the constable of the castle) and an episode with a French envoy who had come to persuade her to surrender the castle to the French invaders who intended to put their own Prince Louis on the English throne. In doing that, they would simply depose the son of King John – the nine-year-old Henry III. The French were supported in this by the barons who had rebelled against King John. Nicola adamantly refuses and, as the French have already landed in England, she prepares the castle garrison for forthcoming battle:

And absolutely lastly, the Battle of Lincoln Fair was named from the festivities that followed in Lincoln after the French were defeated in the battle. This drawing, by Matthew Paris in the 13th century, shows the death of the French commander as the French flee from the castle. It also shows the importance of the crossbow.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

 

The Lincoln Santa Run 2016

lincoln-unis-macmillan-cancer-support

Today, Sunday December 11, we decided to head into Lincoln to watch the annual University of Lincoln Santa Fun Run, organised by the The Rotary Club of Lincoln Colonia in aid of a number of local charities. The university itself sponsors Macmillan Cancer Support.

some-of-local-charities-involved

This was the eleventh time the Lincoln Fun Run has taken place, and just like the brilliant Christmas market held annually over the first weekend of December, each year has seen the event growing in size and popularity. This year, well over 2,500 santas took part – as well as over 200 canine ones. We’ve been a couple of times in the past but had never bothered to take photographs before. So today we went with determination!

The run was scheduled to start at 11.30 am, but we got there well before 10 o’ clock, purely to make sure we found somewhere to park – and to find ourselves a ‘viewing spot’ near the front in order to take the photos. Last time we went, we were a long way back in the crowds and all I managed to see was the odd flash of red now and then. 😦  So we mooched about and took a few pics here and there of the organisers making the final preparations to the route, as well as the gathering santas and supporters.

The ‘compere’ kept supporters entertained as we massed, and at one stage he asked whether any of us were visitors from distant places. It was interesting to note that amongst those were people from Australia, New York and California.

The photos below show one on the inflatable santas going up. The run eventually started behind this cheery chappie, at the other side of the castle.

Here are just a few photos of ‘The Gathering of the Santas’ – as we decided to call it. The santas in the blue suits were running in support of Nepal.

The ‘Run’ itself was a lot of fun and spectators added to that with their support of the participants. Some of the faster runners completed the 3.5 km (2 mile) run very quickly, but everyone was well encouraged and cheered on. The route involved two laps, part of which circled the imposing cathedral.

And lastly, here’s a short video we made of the ‘Run’. (No, I haven’t got a tripod yet! 🙂 )

The Mini-Barons Celebrate Christmas

Curtis Header 2

Throughout this summer the city of Lincoln celebrated the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runneymede.  Only four copies of this ‘Great Charter’ are still in existence today: two in the British Library, one in Salisbury Cathedral and one that belongs to Lincoln Cathedral, but is on display in Lincoln Castle.

As part of the anniversary celebrations in Lincoln the organisers created a Barons’ Charter Trail for children to follow. Twenty five lifesized and colourful ‘barons’ were created and given names like ‘Truck Driver Baron’ and ‘Wild Flower Baron’. They were placed in prominent positions across the city centre and little ‘mini barons’ were produced for people to buy and decorate themselves.

I wrote a post about the Magna Carta, with pictures of the life-sized barons in August (here) but here is a picture of just three of them . . .

. .  and this one had changed his clothes to welcome people to the Christmas market over last weekend:

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In September the barons were brought together for one last ‘reunion’ in the castle grounds before they were auctioned off.  Since then, as part of the Christmas festivities in Lincoln, many shops and businesses have been given one of these mini barons to decorate and display in widows, or on check-out counters. Again, the challenge has been to see how many people can find them. Last week we went into ‘downhill Lincoln’ – the main shopping area – and photographed some of the barons we found:

On Friday evening, we went to Lincoln Christmas Market and had a look for a few more of these little barons in shops in the ‘uphill’ part of the city. These are some we found:

The Barons – both big and small – have been good for Lincoln. Along with the Magna Carta and the Sand Sculptures, they have brought many visitors and trade to the city. Last weekend the Christmas market added to the festive feel as 2015 draws to a close. I wonder what 2016 will bring . . .?

Shoe Baron Hearder