28 January 2015 | l_rawjalaurence
Vivid Depiction of the Strength of Amateur Dramatics in Britain
Set in Nottingham during the local dramatic society's production of a pantomime at the Arts Theatre, Jeanie Finlay's film depicts the struggles of trying to mount a production, from the elaborate rehearsal-period to the dress rehearsal and the first night. Things always seem to go wrong, but in the best theatrical tradition, everything turns out fine on the night.
Most of the familiar characters are there, from the laid-back director with professional experience, charged with the responsibility of trying to mold a large company into a performing unit; the harassed assistant with most of the backstage responsibilities, swearing and cussing at her actors and other helpers, who nonetheless thoroughly enjoys her job; the dame (who in pantomime tradition is actually played by a man) who sees the entire experience as an antidote to the loneliness of his personal life; and the principal boy (played by a woman) with a good voice plagued by insecurity.
Yet PANTOMIME is nonetheless an affectionate tribute to the power of amateur dramatics to attract people from all walks of life - the man recovering from a stroke, the unemployed fifty-something who spends most of his days trying to escape from home, the children enjoying their first experience of performing on stage - and draw them into a community ritual that benefits everyone. There is not only a sense of shared endeavor and companionship, but a feeling of achievement at the end; that everyone had gone through the arduous task of rehearsal, and emerged at the other end so that they can perform on the first night.
Issues of 'quality' are perhaps unimportant here; it does not really matter whether the performance is very good or not (although the company as a whole do a remarkable job of unifying music, song and comedy into a coherent piece). What perhaps matters more is that the entire experience brings people together in ways which are perhaps not as common now as they might have been in the past, when entire communities lived and worked in small spaces. Contemporary life can be much more alienating, with people going to work and returning to their little boxes, and communicating mostly by smart-phone or the internet. Pantomime offers a unique opportunity to bring people into close proximity with one another in the rehearsal room or back stage, and learn something about themselves, as well as their fellow human beings.