Once upon a time, in a strange dark land, there was a Prince Charming and a Dame, some goodies and baddies and lots of terrible jokes, all strung together around songs and dances of one kind or another.
It could have been anywhere, but it was at the King David School in Liverpool. I have already written about my experiences taking part in music at the school and these thoughts came to mind as a result. The moving spirit behind the pantomimes was Mr John Smartt, later to become Headteacher, who at the time was a young teacher in the science department. He was aided and abetted by many teachers, especially his head of department, Mr Kitt. I know that all the teachers who took part committed lots of their own free time without extra pay to make these pantomimes happen.
I am not sure exactly when the whole thing started. I remember my sister Deborah played Prince Charming very well, and enjoyed it immensely, so that would have been 1973, but I don’t know if that was the first one or not. I don’t mean the first Prince Charming, there always has to be a Prince Charming, and I don’t mean the first Prince Charming played by a girl, it’s always like that, and for anyone interested in more serious research, the whole thing goes back to Elizabethan theatre, as described in the film Shakespeare in Love, which reminds me of a great joke by the writer Sir Tom Stoppard. The plan was for this to be a team building experience for Lower Sixth students, called Year 12 now, and US equivalent of 11th Grade; not talking in Elizabethan terms, now we’re back in the gloomy 70’s. I think more or less the whole year group took part, as there was plenty to do, between set building and painting, administration, acting, music and dancing.
In 1975 it was my year group’s chance to take part, and I got involved in the band to play the music for Robin Hood and his Merry Men. We had great fun and this was a very different experience from playing orchestral parts or in a recorder ensemble. This was a much more spontaneous activity, making up bits of music to cover walk ons and offs, and finding the right song to fill a particular moment in the script to cover a costume change or a scene change. Vamp until ready… Yes, we learnt a lot about not being prima donnas because the music was certainly there to support the rest of the show, not always as the main attraction. There even moments when we sat out, while a dance group chose a recorded song because they thought that suited their dance movements better… not of course we weren’t offended… promise.
I remember Mr Smartt let me include a couple of little songs I wrote and this was a special treat, getting to hear your own music performed by your friends and for a large audience. One of Mr Smartt’s great strengths was bringing out the best in his students and encouraging us to have a go.
I am not going to list names of pupils who took part in the pantomimes so it would be great to hear from those past pupils who took part. I hope you will fill in some of the blanks in my memory and correct any twists which have crept in over the years.
Now, tell me children, where on earth is Mr Smartt? He’s behind you, behind you!