Posted by Galatea
We're so close now! It's nearly time to unleash Lashings' second pantomime, Fanny Whittington, upon the world -- and we're so very excited about it. Today, we'd like you to meet a few of the characters who'll (hopefully) be singing, dancing and making terrible puns at you soon. Since we'll be working with rotating casts for both the Oxford and Edinburgh shows, there's no guarantee that the performers in the pictures below are the ones you'll actually see on the night... but we think they're all equally amazing! Since it's just over two weeks until we open in Oxford on Thursday June 6th, the rest of Lashings has very kindly let me steer the blog this week so that I can tell you a little bit about how we wrote the characters, and why we wrote them the way we did.
One thing you'll probably notice straight away is that in addition to being LGBTQ+, this show is unashamedly, unabashedly political. With the way things are at the moment, we didn't feel that we could write it any other way. However, just because you're taking on serious issues doesn't mean you can't fill the script with really puerile puns and tragic innuendo, so first of all I'd like to introduce...
Image caption: A young white woman, Fanny Whittington (played by Cleopatra) sits on the ground laughing while wearing brightly rainbow-coloured clothes.
Our dashing young orphan lesbian feminist hero, who's come to London to seek her fortune! It's probably obvious that the title Fanny Whittington arrived in my head first, and then the heroine brought the rest of the story -- a queer, left-wing, gender-flipped version of Dick Whittington -- along with her. Now, Dick Whittington is a story that's all about being poor, young, alone, brave and resourceful -- and getting lucky enough to win your fortune and climb to the very top of society. I started to wonder, though: how would the story be different if the main character wasn't concerned with scrambling to the top of the socioeconomc heap, but with trying to make sure that nobody ended up trapped at the bottom?
To me, Fanny embodies that phase that a lot of young radical people go through -- I certainly did, for one -- where you see so much that's wrong with the world, and you just desperately want to FIX EVERYTHING and SAVE EVERYONE, preferably all at once! She's very determined, loyal and tough-minded -- she's pretty much had to be, especially given the number of awful jokes about her name that she probably had to endure while growing up. She's also not above making a terrible pun or two herself! However, Fanny learns throughout the story that just because you want to solve everyone's problems doesn't always mean that you can -- that sometimes people need freedom and space to come up with their own solutions.
Image caption: A young white person wearing a cardigan and tie, Ali Chapman (played by Astra) types on a computer while a young white woman in brightly coloured clothes, Fanny Whittington (played by Cleopatra) leans over their shoulder.
Fanny's love interest, the mysterious and glamorous Ali Chapman, was probably the character who took the longest to fall into place during the writing process -- but they were definitely worth waiting for! Ali is dreamy, artistic, sweet-natured... and they also just happen to be the heir to the TopChap corporation, the clothing chain that's causing terrible [SPOILERS!] to happen.
I think a lot of us initially found it quite difficult to write a sympathetic character who is so heavily concerned with clothing and style, particularly as most Lashers who are interested in fashion tend to skew much more alternative than Ali does. However, as the writing process went on we realised that for Ali, clothes are a means of self-expression and an important part of their gender identity -- and that Ali's desire to share fashion with other people comes from an incredibly generous, loving place. They've ended up being one of my favourite characters, particularly given their slightly weird, off-the-wall geeky approach to trying to help people (best friend kidnapped by evil Tories? Let's go to THE LIBRARY!).
Image caption: Dick (played by Fitzy), a white man with a moustache wearing a business suit, top hat and mayoral chain, glares at the camera while holding a folder that reads 'CITY OF LONDON LAWS AND ORDINANCES'. It has been graffitied in purple marker, and now reads 'Dick's CITY OF LONDON LAWS AND ORDINANCES so there!'.
Boo! Our evil pantomime villain, Dick is a sort of horrible composite of All The Tories Ever, with a dash of awful that's all his very own. Dick's aims and goals in life might be scarily familiar to lots of people in our audiences -- together with his evil talking cat Osbourne (yes, really), he rode into power by stigmatising one section of society and promising everyone else that he'd get rid of them. Now he spends his days figuring out new ways to tax bedrooms, cut benefits and kick out immigrants, all the while blaming everyone's problems on the rats of London! When our story opens, Dick has been the Mayor of London for ten long years, and has bullied, threatened and scared the innocent population of the city into believing that the economy is tottering on the brink of collapse and that the only way to avoid total ruination is for everyone to accept Dick into their hearts and vote him in for another term.
Like Sebastienne's Baroness Scratcher in the 2012 Cinderella pantomime, Dick is a larger-than-life figure with plenty of Evil Villain Songs and lots of opportunities to laugh, yell 'boo' and even throw things -- hey, if there's one thing pantomime offers us as an art form, it's the chance to shout back at some of the baddies that we rarely get a chance to respond to in real life.
Image caption: The rats (played by Lilka, Nigel Newt and Sebastienne), three people dressed in orange overalls and rat ears, huddle together looking terrified.
Without wanting to give too much away, whenever you find an exploitative oligarchy, you'll always find people at the bottom -- and in our story, that's the rats, victims of Dick's divide-and-conquer campaign. The rats are the people whom Dick labelled as dirty, lazy, disease-ridden and degenerate and blamed for everyone's problems... until eventually the day came when he was allowed to abuse them as much as he liked. The trio in the picture above are named Sam, Max and Terry (all intentionally gender-ambiguous names -- on any given night, you might see Samuel, Maxwell and Terrence or Samantha, Maxine and Theresa, or any combination of all or none of the above), and they're pretty pissed off about the way they've been treated for the past ten years. They're not going to stand for Dick and Osbourne's nonsense much longer: a Rat Uprising is on the way!
Image caption: Another rat, a young white person dressed in orange overalls and rat ears,
sits on the ground sewing and smiling sarcastically.
I think all of us on the writing team found that the rats were incredibly fun to write -- they're basically a brawling cross between a family of cantankerous siblings, a less trans*faily version of the People's Front of Judea and (shh! whisper it!) occasionally sometimes a little bit of Lashings itself. One thing that I particularly enjoy about the rats is that they encompass a range of personality types -- some are silly and giggly and like to flirt and make jokes and have fun, some are serious and determined and committed to the Rat Uprising... and it becomes clear as the story works itself out that progressive action needs both types of people. Hell, it needs all types of people -- and in true panto-style happy ending, we find that even those who've been getting it badly wrong can redeem themselves by the end of the hour.
Is it silly? Is it hokey? Does the script at one point deliver over twenty cheese-related puns in less than two minutes? Yes to all of the above -- but to me, that's one of the great joys of pantomime.
There are even more awesome characters, ridiculous songs and silly sight-gags that I'd love to tell you all about -- but I'd better leave some mystery for Opening Night! Will Dick get his come-uppance and stop tormenting the rats? (BOO!) Will Fanny and Ali find true love, peace and freedom and incredibly sharp tailoring? (HOORAY!) Will the kyriarchy be completely demolished with songs, confetti and sweeties for all by the end of the final number? (HOPEFULLY!).
You can see Fanny Whittington in Oxford on June 6, 7 and 8: book Oxford tickets here!
You can also see Fanny Whittington in Edinburgh on August 12-24: book Edinburgh tickets here!
(And stay tuned for the possibility of a London show...)
We can't wait to share this story with you.
All photos used in this post are copyright John Woodworth photography, johnwoodworthphotography.com, and are used with grateful permission.