Friday, 9 December 2011


This is pantomime season, in particular in the states of northern Europe. Old folk tales of Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and The Beanstalk, pastiche histories such as Robin Hood and his Merry Men, exotic orientalisms such as Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, are played out before family audiences who are encouraged to shout well known phrases such as 'He's behind you!' and sing along to current popular songs. Pantomimes are high colour, all-singing and all-dancing, utterly sexist, occasionally racist and homophobic, full-on popular entertainments, staged in well-worn manners in theatres across Europe.  

This weekend's summit of EU leaders is the season's highlight. Already one of the leads, Cameron of the UK, has pulled out, but there is still a very strong cast, led by Sarkozy of France and Merkel of Germany. 

In a confusing re-write of the traditional form, it's not clear who is the villain – the witch, the evil giant, the ugly sisters – though villainous activities by Banks and Markets off-stage are driving the plot.

Europeans from across the Union watch this pantomime with ill-ease. From Tramore (52 degrees North, 7 degrees West) to Kunda (59 degrees North, 26 degrees East) from Letterkenny (54 degrees North, 7 degrees West) to Beja (38 degrees North, 7 degrees West), citizens gaze in wonder at the comings and goings of the lead players and wonder at the impact of the phone call just before curtain up from Obama, the American impresario.  

Kenny from Ireland wants to preserve the country's low rate of corporation tax. It is Jack and the Beanstalk then. How many magic beans can we get for our sovereign moily cow in order to give them to those Ugly Sisters, the rapacious Banks and Markets?

Of course, it's more Greek Tragedy than Pantomime, with elements of French Farce and German Symbolism. It plays out on stages across Europe with Chinese lanterns waving in the wings and American eagles roosting in the gantries above the actors. 

European citizens gaze in awe as the players plunder about the stage, sensing that a gloss is being varnished across the individual tragedies they will face when they leave their seats and begin to .... march with sovereign tread... in Alexander Blok's memorable phrase. They continue then, perhaps advancing as citizens in Tahrir Square recently advanced.

Behind them limps the hungry dog, 
and wrapped in wild snow at their head
carrying a blood-red flag - 
soft-footed where the blizzard swirls, 
invulnerable where bullets crossed - 
crowned with a crown of snowflake pearls, 
a flowery diadem of frost, 
ahead of them goes Jesus Christ.

Blok's seasonal, mystical, symbolic image is part-pantomime, part-tragedy. As is the experience of citizens, as the curtain remains up and lives are always at stake.

The Twelve; poem; Alexander Blok; English translation by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France; Eyre and Spottiswode; 1970

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