Ah, the Christmas pantomime at the Gaiety – every Dubliner's favourite childhood holiday memory. Going to the theatre with the family, hearing all the best songs from the radio tied in to a familiar fairy-tale musical, and laughing for hours at the pure whimsy of the evening. Maybe, if you were lucky, you even got a shout-out from the cast during the curtain call one year or convinced your parents to buy you a light-up magic wand!
Right? Or something like that? This is my first Christmas in Dublin, and that's what I gather a Dublin Christmas means. Naturally, then, I attended my first panto earlier this week – and, friends, it was weird.
Essentially, I learned two things from Peter Pan, the panto running at the Gaiety this year through 25 January. The first is that Christmas pantomimes do not care in the slightest about plot, logic, or, from the look of it, copyright restrictions. The second is that kids apparently love the gays.
The show opened with a full-cast performance of Pharrell's "Happy." What does "Happy" have to do with Peter Pan? Nothing, of course, but it's December 2014, and right now, any iteration of that number is gonna bring the house down, so opening number it is!
The backup dancers – who I soon realise are supposed to be Tiger Lily & her band of Native American sidekicks – are dressed in glittery Egyptian costumes. There is a little person in a kilt. Everything is offensive. And I have never seen a happier crowd of theatre goers in my entire life.
When "Happy" ends, we are transported to the bedroom of Wendy Darling, where the actual plot of Peter Pan unfolds for about three minutes. Peter is played by a man. While this makes sense for a character named Peter who is king of a band of lost boys, it is an exceedingly rare casting choice, and it makes the "cute," "playful" "flirting" between adult Wendy and Peter much more sexual than when both these characters are played by twelve-year-old girls.
Before long, though, Peter and the Darling siblings are flying, and disbelief is totally, blissfully suspended as the entire audience (myself included) is taken in by the pure freaking magic of theatrical flight. Even when it goes wrong, the theatre magic of humans flying onstage never fails to amaze, and in this production, it all goes very, very right.
The flight must stop, though, when Nana approaches. For those of you who have forgotten, Nana in the stage play and film adaptations of Peter Pan, is both a very small part and a dog. In this production, Nana is a man in pink-haired drag whose debut solo number is a lightly-edited version of "Bang Bang" that inexplicably fails to cut the line, "if he hangin,' we bangin'." I have doubts about how suitable this whole thing actually is for children.
These doubts linger throughout the show as I slowly realise that the glue holding the production together is jokes about gay culture. One of the pirates, Singing Cyril, is a sequin-turbaned old queen who attempts within thirty seconds on stage to get his ragtag fellow pirates to join in singing "God I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line. No one gets this joke but me. I, who did show choir in my American high school and list among my personal idols Liza Minnelli, Cher, and Celine Dion, love this joke.
The next two musical numbers are "One Day I'll Fly Away" from Moulin Rouge and Bonnie Tyler's Footloose smash, "I Need a Hero." If this panto were any gayer, it would be Elton John.
By the end of the first act, forty-foot inflatable octopus tentacles have been lowered into the audience while mermaids fly around on stage and small children shriek with delight, and a theatrical flight sequence has shown Wendy and Peter flying over Dublin while "Somewhere Only We Know" plays in the background. I am not crying, and I don't know why you would suggest that I am.
The second act opens with Gloria Estefan's "Conga," and gay Captain Hook, drag queen Nana, and I are all equally excited. Shortly afterwards, Hook incites the whole audience to boo at him for claiming that girls are better than boys, and I can feel the wage gap closing in about fifteen years when these kids enter the workforce.
Before long, we have reached the moment in the Peter-Hook sword fight when Wendy is trapped and all seems lost. But then the cast and audience remember: to escape Hook's clutches, she need only fly! As hundreds of children scream at her to think happy thoughts, the very adult male Peter Pan – whom Wendy has kissed several times by this point – shouts, "Wendy, you know what to think of!"
I cannot be the only person who responds to this with a heavily raised eyebrow.
In the end, though, Wendy flies away from her certain doom, Hook is defeated, and everyone lives happily ever after while a full-cast performance of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" sends us off into the sunset.
I have watched the Tony Awards every year for a decade, and still, this was the gayest two hours I have ever seen in my life. It was glorious. I have no idea what this spectacle has to do with Christmas, but if this is what holiday cheer means to today's eight-year-olds, I am excited for the future. Get your tickets now, everyone. You need to see this panto.