‘Tis the season to be jolly a sentiment embraced on stages up and down the country, as theatrical fare gives way for a month to the bonkers British tradition of pantomime. And no role more exemplifies panto’s silliness, naughtiness and good hearted festive cheer than the dame.
Sticking a great big man in an even bigger frock is an odd ritual when you stop to think about it.wholesale jerseys from china But even if it seems old fashioned the dame harks back to the Victorian era, when she was a vehicle for star music hall performers it’s a custom that is still going strong. Of the hundreds of pantos being performed around the country this Christmas, most still have, at their heart, a chap in pantaloons and a wig. Those absurd costumes, octave swooping voices and a face full of slap somehow make jokes funnier, and dames sweep children up in the magic while lacing proceedings with innuendo for the grown ups.
But just how important is the physical transformation? How does an ordinary bloke become Widow Twankey or Mother Goose? There are certain costume items and make up looks that are essential the lace up boots, the brightly coloured wig; the garish eye shadow, the rosy cheeks. And the point has never been to become a convincing woman. It’s a ridiculously gaudy, often grotesque, version of woman.
In an age of bigger budget, more spectacular, arena sized pantos, the costumes are getting barmier, too: Christopher Biggins (see overleaf) will fly on stage as a chandelier this year, while Joe Meloy’s Twankey even manages to festoon his wig with some washing.
We met three performers to find out more about their transformation from regular men to larger than life ladies. And it turns out that as soon as they’re wielding that lipstick, there’s just no stopping their inner dame from barrelling out
The veteran dameChristopher Biggins
Mrs Smee in ‘Peter Pan
“I think this could be my 38th year as a dame, and I’ve not changed at all. The make up is very easy, funnily enough. It takes me 20 minutes; I do my own. It’s part and parcel of getting ready.
“Simplicity is best. Luckily I don’t play an ugly sister because I’m far too pretty so I just do a very pretty make up. A base, eye shadow, rosy cheeks and lips, and a beauty spot.
“They want to see you they want to see Christopher Biggins; some dames make themselves so grotesque, you can hardly work out who they are.
“I never go out in between matine and evening shows; I stay in the make up. I have something to eat, go to sleep, and when I wake, I just tart up the make up.
“I like to wear a different costume every entrance. A man my size is wonderful to see in different costumes I’m really just a clothes horse. I have a cupcake costume, I’m playing Pamela Anderson in a swim costume, and in the finale, I fly in as a chandelier. To see someone my size fly is fantastic.
“I have a phobia of the costumes being in my dressing room I always have a quick change room in the wings. I put the make up on and a leotard and go [to the wings], and don’t return [to my dressing room] till the interval. I actually find the costumes rather frightening. They take up so much space that there’s no room for me!
“We used to have women who’d play men, the principal boy, but that’s died out. Nowadays children can’t ignore the fact that it’s an adventure story about Dick Whittington or Aladdin, and these characters are stronger if played by men. It is a great shame.
“I’m uncomfortable with women playing dames people laughing at a real woman is a bit sad. The comedy is that it’s a man, dressed up as a woman, doing manly things! It’s bizarre. It’s the one pantomime that is actually about the dame and it’s a big part for the dame as well.
“I can’t try to recreate what I did six years ago; I just do my best, have fun and hope the audience has fun. If I don’t get nominated [for an Olivier] this time, that’s all right.
“Panto is no less an art form than anything else. It takes truth, it takes dedication, you have to be multi talented you have to sing, dance and act. It’s a tradition and you have to understand that you are working with children from five to 95. Virtually no other form of theatre is keyed towards the whole family experience.
“Dames are organised chaos. If you’re having fun, people will have fun with you. And truth, truth, truth, truth, truth. Each dame is different there’s no rule of thumb but you have to be yourself within that frock, there has to be a lot of you within it.
“I play it as a bloke in a frock. I try to be what I think a bloke thinks a woman is like. Nice blokes, not horrible blokes, obviously.http://www.cheapjerseys6vm5.top Each to their own you can play it in Doc Martens and a beard.
“I do my own make up; it takes about 25 minutes. It’s an adaptation of the first make up I ever used as a dame. I would say it’s almost a clown make up. The process of putting it on puts me in the right state of mind to do the show.
“Doing panto does take some of the fun out of Christmas, because I’ve only got one day off and I’m very, very tired. But, equally, I get to celebrate Christmas for seven weeks.
“The dame is always within me. I stand at the side of the stage and she walks on stage. I don’t try to control her and I think of her as a different person. Now I’ve done nine or 10 pantomimes, I just let her go and she’s off.”