I think I was judged yesterday – we were judged I should say. I was in a cafe with Freddie, and he was acting up as he often does at mealtimes, but I was dealing with it in the way I find works best, which is quite low-key.
I heard a voice somewhere in the cafe declaiming (obviously to a child), rather louder than seemed necessary: “… but you’ve been good enough to get presents from Santa, haven’t you?”
Probably I was just being paranoid – so I’m glad I disobeyed my first instinct, which was to stand up and say: “Good job Santa’s not a judgemental ******* like some, then!”
Santa takes individual circumstances into account. Which is what I have to do; so, although with my older children, if they had acted up, I would have threatened to cancel that afternoon’s visit to the Panto if they didn’t behave, I didn’t do that with Freddie.
Freddie wouldn’t be in the least concerned with that. If anything he’d be quite happy to be taken home; he’s a proper home- body and, if anything, needs to be gently encouraged out of his comfort zone to try new things.
As it happened, once we were out of the cafe he was as good as gold. He walked really well from there to the theatre, he didn’t flop and drop once.
We were on our to the first ever ‘relaxed’ matinee performance of the Regent Theatre’s annual pantomime, in Stoke-on-Trent.
During a ‘relaxed’ performance, the house lights are left on low, strobe lighting can be removed, loud noises are reduced or removed, and making noise or moving about during the performance is not discouraged. There was even a notice in the toilets said that the hand-dryers had been switched off for the duration of that performance.
Before Cinderella got properly underway, Ugly Sister Beyoncé (Christian Patterson) came on stage to explain to the audience the special effects that would be used during the performance: each one was demonstrated, and the crew responsible for them introduced. He explained the cast understood that some people might need to get up and leave, and come back, and that was OK, they wouldn’t be offended; and if some people needed to watch through iPads or phones that would be OK too, provided they weren’t recording. Then a screen came down, and there was a countdown to the start of the show.
There was, perhaps, slightly less audience participation, and the pyrotechnics were toned down a little, but apart from that the experience differed little from the traditional Panto experience. There was visual humour and slapstick galore, and, as always, some jokes that worked on a second level for the grown-ups. Certainly the magic and that distinctive pantomime ‘feel’ were maintained throughout (my favourite bit was the flying horse that pulled Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage into the air above the stage).
It’s the magic moments like this, the Christmas pantomime, that new parents look forward sharing with their children, and these are the kind of things that ‘special needs’ parents can feel cheated out of. Being able to go to the theatre might seem trivial to grieve over in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to the challenges that the families of people with additional needs and disabilities can face; but sometimes, when a child’s life is made tougher by those needs, such things, positive quality experiences, take on an added significance. Everyone enjoys the magic, of course. But we need it.
The audience wasn’t made up entirely of children and their ‘carers’, though. There were adults, too, for whom the ‘relaxed’ performance was more comfortable. Among these adults were some very elderly people. I saw a group of them later, being assisted into a minibus outside the theatre. It struck me that perhaps they were residents of a facility caring for those affected by dementia. This called to mind a talk I attended recently as part of the LiveAge festival, on literature and ageing, and how traditional, well-known poetry and song, the rhymes and tales of childhood learned by heart, can be therapeutic for elders whose memories of long-ago are sharper than their grasp on present-day reality. Panto falls well within this catergory – although they are reworked and updated to include topical matters, the basic details , the tropes and traditions, remain, and may recall those memories carried in the heart, long after the mind has unravelled.
There may well be sound economic reasons why not every performance can be conducted in this way, but I do hope that it will become standard practice to conduct some performances from each run in this way.
Panto is a form that both reaches back into the past and forward to the future. And is perhaps the great theatrical leveller – it has something for everyone, and therefore, should be accessible to all. So I’d like to say a very big ‘Thank you’ to the Regent Theatre, and to the cast of Cinderella, for making the magic of pantomime accessible to more families this Christmas.
Freddie was as good as gold throughout; what’s more, it held his attention – no mean feat in itself. We both enjoyed the Panto immensely , and I particularly enjoyed the feeling that our outing was ultimately a success – Freddie had tried something new and loved it, and I had been able to relax with no fear of being judged by others, and if I’m relaxed, Freddie is more likely to be relaxed and reasonably well behaved.
I think the fact that I didn’t witness any disruptive behaviour is significant – the whole atmosphere was designed toto minimize the causes of such behaviour. And that makes a neat point about how society itself is equally as disabling as any ‘condition’ or ‘disability’.