Apparently, this is a phenomenon, and an institution even older than the John Lewis Christmas advert. Well, so the programme says. The long-awaited (well, twelve months) successor to the ground-breaking Dick! and its beloved sequel, Dick! Comes Again: Bigger, Longer, Harder!, like them the new arrival Sleeping Booty is the brainchild of writer and director Stuart Saint. The phenomenon in question is an adult pantomime (no children allowed – you get that right?) taking place in the extremely intimate space of the Lounge at the Leicester Square Theatre, an already bijou establishment next to the Prince Charles Cinema.
To call it bawdy or camp doesn’t really even get off the blocks. Even ‘naughty’, as they describe it, doesn’t really cut it. The story (hah!) concerns the svelte Booty!, (Alice Marshall) – distinguished in actually having an exclamation mark as part of her name, but physically distinctive in having hardly any booty at all ironically enough – her helpers Fairy Muff and Prince Willie Wontie, struggling against the machinations of the Evil Mangelina¸(Miss Dusty ‘O’ – presumably a duchess among dames if you’re in the know).
This is pantomime for the post-porn generation. What once was a nod-and-a-wink, a Carry On cleavage or a suspicious-looking cucumber stands now transformed as a relentless volley of sexual organs and their every function and all of the sexual practices known to mankind and some of the animal kingdom, some references veiled, but most about as blushingly chaste as one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. Not so much innuendo as in-your-end – well, you get the idea.
In fact, even innuendo gets a wry kick in the balls. After teasing a member of the audience about ‘spanking the monkey’, ‘bashing the bishop’, ‘choking the chicken’, the Prince breaks off and explains archly that ‘these are all phrases describing masturbation, the bishop referred to being the glans of the penis’, while his sidekick holds up a detailed anatomical diagram. In a similar vein, audience participation gets satirized, though somewhat charmlessly: ‘Now boys and girls, every time Tit Bit comes on to the stage, I want you to shout “Fuck off Tit Bit, you twat!”’
Don’t get me wrong, it is funny. The script crackles with wordplay, vulgar and obscene (though pantomime was always vulgar; it’s the obscenity that’s new) and the rhyme and the rhythm is done with panache, the world-weary self-reference which has always been panto’s stock-in-trade pulled off with great style by the very practised cast. Some members of the audience are singled out at random for arbitrary humiliation, much to the enjoyment of those who didn’t get chosen.
But what I wonder is why there’s an audience for it. In ordinary panto, there’s that bizarre Baywatch concept of ‘something for the dads’ – a bit of titillation and cheeky naughtiness while still keeping the kids in the dark and entertained. For all its laughs, and for all the erotic references, this is spectacularly unsexy, and anyway, you’ve already had to pay the baby-sitter. Why not go to Stringfellows, or better still, go and see some proper comedy.