Home-grown humour is still the key
THE pantomime should be dragged into the 21st century with new plot ideas and fresh jokes, a national body for amateur dramatics urged today.
With the panto season well and truly under way, cries of "He's behind you!" and "Oh yes he is!" are now reverberating around the nation's community theatres and village halls.
But a lack of originality in new scripts for the amateur shows is threatening the future of the festive tradition, said the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (Noda).
The organisation has launched an appeal for new ideas - suggesting a panto based on reality TV show Big Brother - and fresh jokes to breathe new life into the popular institution.
But in Huddersfield, home-grown traditional humour is the key to success.
That is one of the big selling points of Huddersfield Light Opera's annual panto.
Humpty Dumpty is this year's offering and it opens on Saturday at the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
It's traditional fare packed with music, spectacular dance routines and bags of gags.
It has been written by the now established team of Chris Brearley and Paul Bennett, who between them must have clocked up more comedy miles than most.
Chris will also be donning the slap, and the outrageous costumes, to again play the Dame - this year it's Dizzy Dolly Eckerslike.
And one of the society's favourite leading men, Neil Broadbent, is centre stage as Willy Eckerslike.
Humpty Dumpty will be played by Ben Haigh.
Noda chief executive Mark Pemberton said the vast majority of amateur theatre groups want to perform traditional titles, such as Cinderella and Mother Goose.
He said: "There is nothing wrong with this, of course. The titles are tried and tested and some audiences are attracted to the traditional.
"But there are some groups and pantomime publishers who hunger for something different.
"It is also the content of pantomimes that needs reviewing for the 21st century.
"Are some of the traditional titles and gags over-used and exhausted?
"Most date back to the 19th century and the days of Victorian music hall and Dan Leno.
"And some of the titles, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Robinson Crusoe, are becoming more difficult to stage in this age of political correctness.
"So perhaps it is time for pantomime writers to think of new titles - why not Big Brother: The Panto? - and new gags."
Mr Pemberton said that Noda, which publishes pantos for the amateur theatre market, would be delighted to offer something modern and different to its membership.
He added: "It is frustrating to be sent scripts by aspiring writers that show little originality, shoe-horn in the same gags and read like production-line fodder. We need new titles and new jokes for a new century."
Keith Johnson, stage director of Sleeping Beauty at The Concordia Theatre, in Hinckley, Leicestershire, believes traditional pantos are best - as long as they are kept to date.
He said: "Our theory is that it should be traditional pantomime, but you have to keep up with the modern era.
"There are certain jokes you always get a laugh out of, but you do have to keep it modern year after year.
"This year we are doing Sleeping Beauty and we have quite a few up-to-date songs and one or two new jokes. You include things that are happening in parliament, that people have read about in the papers."
Noda was founded in 1899 and describes itself as the main representative body for amateur theatre in the UK.