Drimpton, writes Andrew Pastor, is “not the kind of place people are encouraged to relocate to on TV shows”. Yet Drimpton — two miles north of Broadwindsor — is arguably the village with the best community spirit in Dorset, a cheerfulness evoked on almost every page of Panto: The Manual. The book distils the lessons that Andrew Pastor’s learned from writing and directing 10 pantos in Drimpton since 1993.
All panto life is here: why it’s more fun to be the front end of a pantomime cow (“Ee was worried the whole time I was gonna blow off”), what to do if your big knickers fall down (toss them into the wings à la Shirley Gibbs), what challenges are appreciated by boys (“Who can belch at the mention of food?”), how to organise a chase (with “comic running” and “skid” turns), what make-up is preferred by men (“scars, blacked-out teeth, warts, false noses”), why it’s useful to have contacts in the Royal Marines (camouflage netting helps turn your village hall into Sherwood Forest) — and masses more.
Why put on a panto? Because it’s fun. It increases people’s confidence. James Russ says: “Since doing the panto I’ve done a lot more public speaking than I used to at school. And I quite enjoy doing it. But I probably enjoy panto more than public speaking just because you’ve got a character. In public speaking you are just yourself. Panto is a lot less scary.”
Above all, panto helps to make a community. All sorts of people get to know each other better. They enjoy learning more about themselves and what they can do: Mark House says: “I really, really enjoyed it — did me the world of good.”
Cutthroat, Scarface, Pimple, Piggy, Snotnose, Badbreath and Nigel, who was the intellectual one of the outfit
And there are always surprises. John Horne remembers: “I have really enjoyed being the Baddie. Partly because with the make-up and wigs and things. In The Magic Cupboard when I was The Knave of Hearts I had a very nice black wig and full make-up on and somewhere in the second half of the panto a voice in the audience suddenly said: ‘Oh my God, that’s my doctor!’ They’d watched the whole of the first half and only then realised who I was.”
It’s more about playing and pretending than acting. It’s about having a giggle, being big, bold and loud. Hence the names: young pirates called “Cutthroat, Scarface, Pimple, Piggy, Snotnose, Badbreath and Nigel, who was the intellectual one of the outfit.” Or the gang of rats (led by Julius Cheeser and his partner Cleo-ratra) including Scratchit, Sniffit, Dribbler and Squeak. By contrast, pupils at Mrs Fenella Figtree’s School for Fairyfolk featured Lulu-Belle Lullaby, Tristana Moonbeam, Ariadne Candlelight, Phoebe Thistledown and many more mellifluous confections.
All panto characters, writes Mr Pastor, must have a name. In non-Drimptonian productions, they often don’t: there was a joke at Yeovil’s Octagon last Christmas about Unnamed Villager 1. Amusing, but in Mr Pastor’s book, wrong. A name gives the person playing that character a mental picture, an identity. It puts him or her on an equal footing with every other member of the cast. A name makes a relationship more personal. It makes dialogue sound more interesting. “And finally, if every character has a name, it allows a ‘register’ scene when characters are introduced to the audience. They can do this themselves: the Dwarfs [played by children] are made to do it by Snow White in Robin Hood to get over their shyness.”
The section about names is typical of Andrew Pastor’s thoroughness, thoughtfulness and inventiveness. Panto: The Manual is packed with good advice, with lots of contributions from performers and helpers mixed in.
Perhaps the only mystery is why Mr Pastor should have gone to quite so much trouble. There are clues — he loves panto, it gives people around Drimpton something to do in the drear early months of the year, and so on — but still, it’s an enormous amount of hard work, even leaving aside events such as being kept awake by Mark House and his friends practising Monty Python’s Lumberjack song till 3.30 in the morning.
Andrew Pastor: priest of FUN!
In the end one suspects the clue might — in true panto style — be in Andrew’s surname. His previous excellent books (Farming Voices and Who Were We?) have shown deep affection for Drimpton and its nearby hamlets of Greenham and Netherhay. So, Pastor: “a shepherd of souls… one who exercises guidance over a number of people” (OED). Could that simply be it? Andrew Pastor: priest of FUN!
Panto: The Manual — How to put on a performance and make a community by Andrew Pastor and friends is published by Village Voices. The doodles and cartoons are by Patricia Barrett, the design by Brian Hesketh. It’s well produced, and we only spotted two mistakes — one of which might have been deliberate. For more information: pantothemanual.blogspot.co.uk. Or purchase a copy from Amazon.