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Fancy Dress

The British have quite a thing for fancy dress, or costumes in Ameri-speak, which manifested in two ways this past week. First, we went to a traditional Christmas panto, Aladdin, at the Everyman Theater in Cheltenham. If you’ve never been to a panto, it’s more or less a fairy tale livened up by pop music (a Freddie Mercury medley in this case) and both men and women in drag. The male and female romantic leads are played by women, while the role of Widow Twankey—a character that always appears, regardless of the fairytale—goes to a man that is purposely at no risk of being mistaken for a woman.

For reasons still unknown to me, this version of Aladdin was set in “Old Peking”

Our second encounter with fancy dress was at last evening’s New Year’s Eve party. (Unlike Americans, the British see no reason to limit costume parties to Halloween.) Husband and I went, respectively, as Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. I even managed to bag first prize, a bottle of champagne we put to good use to ring in the new year.

Our efforts at bringing two classic children’s books to life

Happy New Year to you and yours! May 2014 bring you health, wealth, and a plethora of opportunities for fancy dress.

Cotswolds England

Drag for the Under-Eights

After more than five years in England, I was pretty sure I had exhausted the repertoire of traditional British experiences. I’ve attended the grand sporting triumvirate of Ascot, Henley and Wimbledon. I’ve wanged-the-wellie at a village fête. I’ve even eaten haggis to celebrate a Scottish poet I’ve never read. But until last Saturday night, I had never attended a panto.

British pantomime is a Christmas theatrical tradition that seems to follow the format of fairytale — Cinderella in our case — with a twist. The purpose of these twists, like the walk-on role of the gorilla, seem to be entirely to encourage audience participation; the form is to shout “it’s behind you,” when said gorilla appears. You can also sing along to the updated musical numbers. We had a lot of Take That, but the best was the rendition of Adam and the Ants’ Prince Charming. Then there is Buttons, the narrator/bumbling suitor of Cinders, who encourages participation from the moms, dads, and kids in attendance. Apparently Buttons wasn’t expecting our group of six, childless adults in the second row. I decided to help out the dads, who seemed the quietest of the constituencies.

Then of course there was the drag. The ugly stepsisters were expected. What wasn’t expected was that Prince Charming and his page would be played by women, which meant the central romance of the story was girl-on-girl. Suddenly the origins of stereotypical British sexual confusion became clear; this is, after all, the entertainment Britons are weaned on. I did seem to be the only one in the audience shocked by it though. The under-eights squealed with delight throughout.