But more often than not, it’s the bit where everyone in the audience decides to open their bags of Haribos. The meet/cute scene. The love song. The moment in the show where our intrepid heroine/hero falls in love and tells or sings to us that no feeling has ever felt like before.
It’s the slushy romantic scene. The scene that sets up the entire stakes for the whole show. The moment Beauty realises she loves the Beast. Where Jasmine and Aladdin wish for a life together despite the differences in social class. Where Cinderella meets her Prince Charming and immediately realises she loves him. And it’s usually followed by an Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift tune.
It’s romantic, but, can also be helluva dull.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As pantomime reflects the time we live in too, so must the romantic scene. It should feel modern and original. A tough ask considering the sheer volume of stories our audience have been exposed to. How do we do that successfully?
Make it count
Every word you write should be dripping with character. Don’t go for well heard and overly predictable platitudes and cliches (unless you’re making a virtue of this and going for comedy effect). This meeting of two souls should reveal their character, their strengths, their weakness and, most of all, show us how these two people work brilliantly together. Reflect it in what they say.
Make it funny
For far too long we’ve left the romantic leads in the comedic shade. There’s a brilliant opportunity to make them funny, to make their meet/cute scene unpredictable and hilarious. Not only will it make the audience root for them even more, the actors will love you for it.
Make it meaningful
Really examine the message you want to send out. Is the story of the Cinderella you’re working on really that all a woman needs is a rich man to take her away from any troubles in her life? Hopefully not. Examine the relationship from both sides – why do they love each other? What does Cinderella show the Prince, that money is irrelevant? That he could do so much with the privilege afforded to him? That pitting women against each other in a public environment is somewhat gross and archaic? Let your romantic leads challenge and change each other, for the better.
Make it modern
The stories we rework each Christmas season are old. Rip up the rule book. You’re putting out stories for a new generation, the message behind the story should reflect our current culture. Tell love stories that you want to see on stage. I’ve written same-sex love stories for Christmas because I want to see my life represented on that stage. Write it from a place of honesty and integrity and don’t worry about how it’s received. Audiences will always respond to authenticity. Our work is a snapshot into our lives. Even if it’s heightened and funny.
Make it yours
It’s all very well to listen to advice like this but take it all with a pinch of salt. Trust your gut, write what you’d love to see. Originality and fresh thinking will always win out – and stop the rustling of sweeties in the audience.
And most of all, make your audience believe in the optimism of love. There’s no greater feeling.
Johnny is a writer, director, actor and performer as well as the joint artistic director of Random Accomplice Theatre Company. He has been described as the new vanguard of pantomime in the national press having written 23 contemporary pantomimes. He is currently under commission to the National Theatre of Scotland, Tron Theatre and Macrobert Arts Centre. For television, Johnny is a senior writer on RIVER CITY (BBC) having written several episodes for series 16 – 23, and he recently wrote on HOLBY CITY series 23. He is currently rebooting Scottish mystery comedy-drama series HAMISH MACBETH for Free at Last TV/Acorn Media and is developing an original feature with producer Kate Croft (Artis Pictures). Headshot by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan