Our pantos are on a mission

12th January 2007 at 00:00
Many children would not get to visit theatres, galleries or museums if it were not for their schools taking them there. That is also true, I suspect, of pantomimes. Love them or loathe them, it is fair to say that most children have experienced a traditional British pantomime.

Running parallel to the traditional British show - which features a dame and the leading lady as principal boy - there is a Welsh-language panto tradition developing which is different in content but just as zany and bizarre in style. In west Wales, between Lampeter and Aberaeron, there is a wonderful purpose-built theatre in a place called Felinfach.

There, community-based theatre flourishes. And this is no middle-class, thespian self-indulgence. Agitprop thrives. Protesters against multi-national companies closing local creameries, or other rural concerns, regularly use drama as a vehicle for getting their message across.

The annual pantomime is hugely popular with both adults and children.

Multimedia trickery and chases around the auditorium have long characterised these sell-out productions. The difference between these pantomimes and the traditional British ones is in the subject matter.

Felinfach eschews Cinderella and Puss in Boots for stories in which the ordinary folk of Dyffryn Aeron, the valley in which Felinfach is situated, finally triumph over the hostile forces from outside who try to cheat and oppress the good people of the valley of the River Aeron.

Generations of children in mid and south Ceredigion have learned to identify with the oppressed but heroic locals, fighting against the impersonal might of the enemy beyond. It is little wonder that the past decade-and-a-half has seen Plaid Cymru make significant advances at election time in Ceredigion.

Welsh-language pantomimes tend to be political wherever they are performed.

At the end of January, a Welsh drama group, Y Crwys from Cardiff, will be putting on a specially written pantomime, Ygi Ygi Ygi a'r Cwangosiaid, with words by Emyr Edwards and songs by Eilir Owen Griffiths.

Non-Welsh readers have 10 seconds to work out what the title means. "Uggy uggy uggy" (in English orthography) is what Max Boyce shouts to a crowd which then replies with "oy oy oy". Cwangosiaid is the plural of quango in Welsh. The villain, called Ygi ygi ygi, rules Wales with an iron fist, aided by his obsequiously fawning circle of quangos. A Red Dragon called Del Eila - and the cue for the curtain-call song - eventually rescues Wales.

Aficionados of Welsh politics will soon detect characters on stage with striking similarities to Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Rhodri Morgan, presiding officer and First Minister of the Welsh Assembly respectively.

But seeing as it is not going to be performed until the end of January, you might be wondering how I know the plot. That is easy. I play Ygi ygi ygi.

Rhys Williams Former head of English and communications officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru

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