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The Pantomime Witch
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The Pantomime Witch

December is the time of pantomimes in several countries around the world, including Australia.  The owners of Bright Light Multimedia, Barbara Llewellyn and Rod Kirkham, appeared in several of these high-camp and often hilarious seasonal plays.  Rod inevitably played the leading romantic male or boyish hero.  Barbara usually portrayed fair young maidens and courageous heroines.

Barbara and Rod only appeared in one pantomime together – “Hansel and Gretel”.  Rod was, of course, the handsome and quick-witted Hansel.  Everyone thought Barbara would be the pretty and charming Gretel.  It seemed obvious for the young, married and well-known couple to play the title roles, but fate decreed otherwise.  Barbara was given the role she secretly coveted.  She was to play the part of the evil and ugly witch.

Barbara was thrilled.  She loved having the chance to appear thoroughly wicked, with completely different mannerisms and voice.  The actress dressed up in black clothing from head to floor with a typical pointed hat, sprouting grey, straw-like hair, covering her own auburn tresses.  Every performance the young woman’s face and hands were covered in green, shiny makeup with a large, fake wart carefully placed on her nose.

The witch was wonderfully evil, delighting in her depravity with a gloriously ugly cackle for a laugh.  The children in the audience should have been terrified of her … but for some reason, children actually wanted to walk up on the stage and hold the actress’s hand or give her a hug.

Within the first few days of the production, it became clear Barbara had to find the reason why the audience was so fond of her despicable character and why no-body screamed in fear.  Children were even laughing and giggling and running towards the stage as the “nasty, old witch” sang her song “I Love to Eat Kids” to the tune of “Food, Glorious Food” (from the musical “Oliver”).

Barbara walked out, still in costume after one performance to find the reason for the lack of fear her performance was engendering.  Several young audience members ran to join her, wanting to hold hands and climb up on her knee.  Barbara asked directly, “Why weren’t you scared of me?”  After all she looked like a typically evil pantomime witch, she spoke like, acted like and sang like a typically evil pantomime witch.  Why didn’t anybody boo and hiss, and want to hide, when they saw her dark persona appear.

The children laughed at Barbara’s glaring stupidity.  The answer was obvious to everyone who was aged less than 10.

“We can tell by the way you smile, you could never harm anybody”, they said.  “We know you love us all.  We’d like to come and live in your lolly house with you and keep you company.”

Barbara thanked her young admirers for their candour, wished them all well, then walked slowly backstage to prepare for the next performance.  She smiled at herself in the mirror and saw her love of life shine back.  Her teeth glowed with happiness and dismissed all other paraphernalia covering her people-loving nature.  She stared at the makeup on her table and immediately knew how to change her appearance into the frightening being she was supposed to portray.

When the actress next walked onto the stage for the afternoon show, the audience reaction was very different from their normally smiling acceptance of her.  Adults and children instantly hissed and booed, with the youngest ones snuggling into their parent’s laps for comfort.  Barbara’s objective was achieved.  The pantomime’s objective was achieved.  The audience thoroughly hated the witch; in the way all audiences should love to hate a pantomime stage villain.  They could now comfortably yell “hooray” when the witch was killed … not cry and be concerned for her safety.  One small makeup change ensured that this performance, and every following performance, gave the audience what they wanted and deserved … and they loved hating her for it.

How had the young actress stopped having such a winning smile and turned from angel to demon.  Simple … she blacked out half her teeth … and frightened everyone, even herself, when she smiled.

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