On Tuesday 15 December Simon Sladen, the British Theatre Guide’s panto editor, posted on Twitter that Billingham Forum’s 2020 panto Aladdin will go ahead as planned. This was part of his regular, almost daily updating of the state of play in the panto world – a most impressive work of love for the genre. That same day I repeated the story in the North East News section of the BTG.
Cause, you may think, for celebration. A little bit of good news amid the theatrical gloom. That was certainly the case when I posted about it on Facebook. People welcomed the news. OK, there were those pessimists (me, for example) who felt that the Forum was being rather too premature and that circumstances could well force them to backtrack, but happy news nonetheless. But…
No. It seems not.
Simon was subjected to an outpouring of abuse which was occasionally breath-taking in its ignorance. It was all to do with the fact that the cast is all-white and that even the Chinese Policemen (ethnicity obvious) are played by white males.
Now there may be a case for Aladdin not to be done nowadays because of its stereotyping, although I’m not sure that I agree, any more than I agree that there should be no productions of The Taming of the Shrew or any other play which does not fit in with modern sensibilities.
(And, in any case, without Shrew there’d be no reason for performing The Tamer Tamed, which is the perfect response to Shakespeare’s bit of misogyny and an enjoyable piece in its own right!)
Amongst the often hysterical reactions to Simon’s perfectly innocent news item were personal attacks, classic cases of shooting the messenger, as if he were the producer!
If a reporter writes a story about a murder, is he a murderer?
Of course not, and no one would be so stupid as to suggest it, but when it comes to comments on social media so many seem to abandon any common sense they may have ever had and simply shriek their prejudices to the world.
This kind of online abuse can rattle a person and even make them wonder if it’s worth their continuing what they are doing and if Simon Sladen were to do this, it would leave online coverage of an important part of British theatre very much poorer.