Brexit’s a panto in every respect except for one, says Roger Ratcliffe

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It is approaching that time of year when children and adults alike start looking forward with almost feverish anticipation to another pantomime season.

Panto is a peculiarly English form of musical comedy and many of the best examples happen to be in the north: at places like Liverpool’s wonderful Empire Theatre, Bradford’s multimode Alhambra and the famous City Varieties in Leeds. This year, though, the nation’s hottest panto ticket isn’t for those, or any other theatre up here, but for the oldest and most splendiferous venue in London – the Westminster Palace of Varieties.

The cast has been in rehearsal for months, and recently I was invited to a sneak peak of its forthcoming production of Aladdin. As a result, I can predict with total confidence that this panto really will bring the house down. So I suppose we should expect another general election sooner rather than later…

Sorry, where was I? Anyway, as everyone knows Aladdin tells the story of a boy who finds a magic lamp. When the lamp is rubbed, out pops a genie to grant him three wishes. Pantomime tradition dictates that most male roles are played by females and vice versa, and in the Westminster Palace of Varieties production Aladdin himself is brilliantly performed by one Theresa May.

The scene in which Aladdin frantically rubs the magic lamp then tries to force the newly emerged genie – who introduces herself as Brenda Brexit -– back into the bottle is side-splittingly hilarious. It is possible, though, that May might not survive in this role beyond the opening night, since everywhere she goes on the stage these trap doors keep opening up in front of her. She could well fall into one at any moment.

If that wasn’t bad enough, those of us who were watching often felt compelled to shriek “Look behind you!” at her as some members of the cabinet – sorry, cast – crept out of the shadows with the clear intention of forcing May to take an early curtain call. This sent palpable waves of excitement thrilling through the audience. And with all those look-behind-yous no one could hear a word May said. Which of course simply added to our enjoyment of the show.

The comic foil to Aladdin is – as everyone over the age of two knows – his mother Widow Twanky, and in the Westminster panto she is performed rambunctiously by the foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. This is a role he was surely born to play, so eat your hearts out Lily Savage, Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Biggins and other portrayers of our most famous pantomime dame.

Widow Twanky runs a laundry, and there is much washing of Tory underwear in public. Whilst doing so the Widow’s other son, Wishy Washy, draws huge gales of laughter from the audience with frequent references to Boris’s enormous bloomers.

What’s unusual about this production of Aladdin is that it occasionally segues into scenes from Cinderella. Thus we have the two ugly sisters played uproariously by Michael Gove and David Davis in the manner of Morecambe and Wise in drag. Their best line is the one about us all turning into pumpkins unless we leave the EU by midnight (European time) on 29 March 2019.

I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on
Twitter @Ratcliffe

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