He’s behind you

My two theatrical dreams, which at 70 I am probably unlikely to achieve, are to direct one of Shakespeare’s plays and to direct a traditional British pantomime.

This might surprise some theatrical devotees because traditionally you should opt for either the serious theatre or for pantomime.

At Rhyl Children’s Theatre Club Joe Holroyd and Angela Day did not differentiate. To them Hamlet got it right: “The play’s the thing . . . .”

After all modern theatre in its many forms descends from the comedia dell’arte which began in Italy in the 16th century and gave us the characters of Harlequin and Columbine, Pantolone, the Clown and Pulcinello. It even brought us the slapstick.


An illustration of comedia dell’arte in Italy.

brought us this . . . .

A Little Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I am pictured right with a horned helmet and my hand on the pommel of my sword.

and this . . .

A Little Theatre production of Puss in Boots with the principal boy (a girl) and the eponymous Puss.

and even this:

The Punch and Judy booth on Rhyl promenade in the 60s.

All of these came originally from the Roman pantomime which initially consisted of one person representing all the characters and performing in true mime, often with a mask.

A pantomime mask from the 2nd century, possibly Roman but more likely Greek.

The point is that although I appeared in plays throughout the spring and summer I did not audition for a pantomime. Instead I helped out as a stage hand and sometimes worked in the fly gallery which meant I raised and lowered the painted backdrops which depicted the scenes ranging from the village green, to the dark wood, the castle kitchen and the throne room and, of course, the magical transformation from a woodland clearing to a fairyland or even a grotto beneath the waves.

Pantomime is a true art form in the tradition of the comedia dell’arte with the characters all present from the star-crossed lovers, principal boy and principal girl (traditionally both female); to the father or similar “baddie” trying to stop the love affair, this could be the evil fairy or the wicked sheriff; to the clown, now represented by the pantomime dame (a man) who is often assisted by a foolish sidekick, Simple Simon or the hero’s younger brother as in Aladdin where Widow Twankey is assisted in the Chinese laundry by her other son Wishee Washee.

The original story of comedia dell’arte was that of Harlequin and Columbine in which her father Pantolone wants her to wed an old man. The couple run away and are pursued by the father accompanied by his servant (a clown character) and, latterly, a policeman.

Some of these stock characters can still be seen in modern Punch and Judy shows with Punch outwitting the policeman, the doctor and even the crocodile.

Eventually more characters were added and the stories were taken from old folk tales and nursery rhymes as the comedy of the Italian art form was transformed into British pantomime.

Joe and Angela made pantomime in Rhyl an event eagerly awaited by adults and children alike.

Joe took the Dame part and made it his own with Angela often playing the good fairy.

A classic example of the Little Theatre pantos was Humpty Dumpty with the title character in the 1964/65 production portrayed by Michael (Carpenter) Williams.

When nursery rhymes were used as a basis the plot often drew in characters from other children’s stories. In this instance that included the Knave of Hearts, Simple Simon, Jack Horner and Miss Muffett.

Even though this production had the main character as Humpty Dumpty a principal boy and principal girl still had starring roles as well as a secondary pair of lovers, normally the friends of the principal boy and girl.

During the 60s the principals were often played by Yvonne Jones and Gwyneth Roberts (the eldest of the Roberts’ sisters with Christine as a member of the junior chorus and Valerie Roberts as one of three principal dancers).

The Dame, as I have said, was Joe’s brilliant creation and this time her son Simon was played by Glyn Banks who could play the fool to perfection (he was the porter in Macbeth for instance).

The pairing of dame and son is a crucial part of panto and Joe and Glyn were a perfect pair – Glyn was Ernie to Joe’s Eric or Harpo Marx to Joe’s Groucho.

So many more names from the children’s theatre club pour into my memory and often those playing in panto would have been in other productions throughout the year although some, especially the chorus, only ever took part in panto.

Karen Lees, who I later appeared with in Night Must Fall was a principal dancer along with Valerie Roberts and a couple of others whose names I don’t remember. Quite often the chorus would include sisters (the name Fox springs to mind).

Yvonne, the principal boy, was also in The Deserted House as was Iona Jones (Little Jack Horner) and possibly the Knave of Hearts whose first name was Pamela but her surname escapes me.

Paul (Carpenter) Williams had a triple role in this panto as the King, the Ogre and Santa Claus in the transformation scene.

Yet again there was the crossover between school and theatre with another example of the talents youngsters were allowed to develop. The lighting plot had been designed by my school friend, Paul Brown, assisted by Louis Parker.

I was part of the stage crew for this production and seem to remember working in the fly gallery for one of the major scene changes.

In those nine wonderful years I remember so many people some of whom may well have gone on to the professional stage while others took what they had learned and used it in am dram societies all over the country.

If you remember anyone from this panto or any production from this era then please tell me in the comment section below.

Next time: schoolboys and science, an explosive mixture.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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