Oh yes she did!


Cake and cheese. The Yorkshire way.

Japanese people are reserved, polite, courteous, quietly-spoken and genteel. We Yorkshire folk are not high scorers on those things really, if we are honest, and we are always honest, brutally so. So what happens when you take your Japanese friend to her first pantomime? Ever? And in Yorkshire?

Maika is in the process of being assimilated into the true Yorkshire Way, which as everyone knows, is the only way. She’s been a student here for more than two years now and it getting into the swing of it. She’s eaten mucky fat and bread, made Yorkshire puddings, worn a flat cap and sung all the verses from Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘at, even though she suspected it had an underlying theme of death and cannibalism.

Her Tyke vocabulary has expanded to the point that she can teach the Unenlightened (non-Yorkshire folk) our unique expressions. These are mainly to do with the weather, she can announce fluently that ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’ adding with that happy optimism we Yorkshire folk are famous for ‘but it’ll burn off’. Coming from a warmer climtate where the sea temperature is a balmy 22C, she soon feels the cold and confesses she sometimes runs in a duvet jacket because she’s ‘nesh’.

She is spending her first Christmas in the UK and had donned beard and suit to take part in the Santa Dash, so we thought she’s be ready to take it to the next level, that most British of festive frivolities, the pantomime. There are no pantomimes in Japan, actually in modern times, pantomimes are unknown outside the UK, so there was a lot of explaining to do. Where do you start? We gave a few simple pointers, the dame is a man in drag, the principal boy is a girl, the baddie enters stage left, the goodie stage right. Members of the audience are teased, there’s a lot of double entendre, custard pies, slapstick and raucous shouting out. What’s not to like?

The only pantomime worth talking about in Leeds is the annual rock and roll pantomime at City Varieties, this year, it’s Aladdin. The beautiful 150-year-old theatre was built as a Victorian music hall, Charlie Chaplain and Houdini performed there and of course it’s home to the BBC TV programme The Good Old Days  where people dress up and sing along, which was our plan too.

We all bought plastic tiaras, except for Noel, who doesn’t dress up, and took sweets and drinks into the theatre. Maika was amazed, in Japan, she said, there was no eating or drinking in the theatre. She was definitely in for a surprise!

I’d dropped a note to say that Maika was seeing her first ever pantomime, and that she was fast becoming a Yorkshirewoman as she would tell anyone who left the door open to ‘put t’wood in t’ole’ and that the cold, damp weather was ‘nithering’.

After a few rounds of ‘it’s behind you!’ and ‘oh no you won’t – oh yes you will’ with a whispered explanation about the Emperor Wun Hung Lo holding his balls (I think this is the first time I’ve ever uttered the word ‘testicle’ in a theatre) the messages were read out.

Maika was amazed to hear her name, but when Widow Twanky mis-pronounced ‘nithering’, there was a loud shout from the lady on my left. ‘It’s not ny-thering, it’s nithering!’ We were shocked, such a shout from a polite, genteel Japanese lady, but she immediately reminded us she was now a Yorkshire lass and could yell like the rest of us!  This continued for the rest of the performance, with us all yelling loudly. All that remained was for us to celebrate the festive season with Christmas cake and cheese. It is the Yorkshire way.

The panto’s rock and roll!


I don’t know who it was, but someone in the stalls started booing very loudly when the baddie appeared. I think it was the same person who laughed like a drain every time the dame farted and shouted the loudest ‘oh no it ISN’T!’  Noel said it was me, but I’m taking the Fifth.

There is no better place to see a pantomime than Leeds’ homely City Varieties. Our  unpretentious bijou theatre nestling in a city backstreet is an absolute gem, and the annual Rock and Roll pantomime the jewel in its crown. There’s no big names, though one of the stars this year can boast a lead role in a DFS sofa advert. Instead it’s good family fun (with frequent references to farting and poo) and lots of excellent singalong music.

City Varieties seats just over 460, which is positively intimate in theatrical terms. The cast vie for space on the tiny stage with the band and their collection of instruments, though that is an issue for none of them as they all seem capable of playing whatever they pick up as well as singing and acting, I tell you it’s pure joy!

Of course I am biased, I was in my 40s before I saw my first ever pantomime (oh yes I was) and I’ve been on catch-up ever since. There’s just something about the colour, the noise, the liveliness of the audience, the jokes about poo and the rockfight that makes them such fun and an antidote to winter blues.

Jack and the Beanstalk is the latest in the line of pantomimes we’ve seen there, each is as much fun as the last, though since the multi-million pound refurbishment at the theatre the wild and wacky rock fight with real foam rocks, has been replaced by Prisoner-style giant balls. Not quite as satisfying as wacking the guy in front of you with a foam rock,  but that’s health and safety regulations for you.

After my foray into theatre earlier this month, I’m wondering whether they’re looking for new talent for their next production. I could tell my favourite joke, which is, “How does Mr Whippy go to the toilet?” The answer is best seen rather than told….

Merry Christmas everyone.

Rock and roll and falling rocks

Aladdin at Leeds City Variaties (image - Leeds City Varieties)

“Do you want a tip?” the Emperor of China asked Wishee Washee who gave the exaggerated nod of a pantomime lad to indicate he most certainly did. “When you’re over 50, don’t trust a fart”.

The children in the audience whooped with laughter (“he said FART!!”). The younger adults sniggered because they knew they could fart with impunity, the older ones laughed because they knew it was true. And so began the sniggering, tittering, chortling, guffawing and outright belly laughing that marked the return of the pantomime to City Varieties.

Oh how I’ve missed this annual festival of corny jokes, yelling that the baddie is somewhere behind and that oh yes, ‘it’ either ‘is’ or ‘isn’t’. The Yorkshire home of music hall closed in 2009 for a £9.9million refurbishment and Loiners went without their traditional star-less value-added pantomime with the World Famous Rockfight™  that has become its trademark.

Aladdin was billed as ‘The Rock n’ Roll Panto’, ten actors singing, dancing, multi-tasking and hamming their way through singalong hits from the 60s and 70s and for all the world looking like they were enjoying it every bit as much as the audience, which was very much indeed.

I was alarmed to note that the reasonably priced programme made no mention of the World Famous Rockfight™, where audience participation amounted to throwing foam rocks at the baddies on the stage. Probably the health and safety jobsworths or some box-ticking risk manager had deemed the throwing of foam to be too dangerous, a child could choke, an older person may fart with excitement, then where would we be?

Instead of a rockfight there was a rockfall and oh what a fantastic improvement! In what seemed like a scene from the cult classic The Prisoner, on cue large rocks fell from above, the lightest most spherical rocks ever made by a giant beach ball manufacturer fell on us. And we punched and shoved them towards the stage. It was mayhem and chaos, children chuckled, the cast chuckled and the over 50s avoided farting.

Well done to Peter Sandeman, Producer and General Manager at the City Varieties. It was brilliant. And if you don’t believe me, go see for yourselves, it runs until January 8.

A first. At MY age….

This Christmas was a first for me. Childhood, teens and twenties had passed me by unfulfilled. Thirties too were behind me. Then, finally, the forties, and the duck was broken. It was my first. Oh yes it was……….

It's not that I had spurned it, more a case of the right time.And so, pushing past gaggles of giggling girls in fluffy tiaras waving flashing wands, babes-in-arms sporting flashing cat ears and too-cool boys wearing embarrassed smiles, we took our seats in Leeds City Varieties to see my first ever pantomime. Dick Whittington.

A veteran of stuffy theatre sessions, it was a blessed relief to have the freedom, indeed the mandate, to shout out at any excuse. Not that I did, of course, more for the children………though Noel told me I was the first to shout 'meow' to save the cat from attack by King Rat and his evil sidekick Warfarin…I denied it of course.

And those one-liners….

'I'm from Essex'
'Which Part?'
'All of me..'

Priceless. Only bettered by the mayhem of the rock fight where we pelted the baddies with sponge rocks. What fun! What a diversion from the serious stuff of life. We're booking our seats for next year now……

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