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Transcript: Love English? Oh, yes we do!
What on earth could 1970s pop group ABBA, Christmas MassMesseMass and pantomimes have in common? Somehow our columnist Colin Beaven has found the connection in Britain Today.
At Christmas, the British go places they avoid during the rest of the year. They go to church, for example. Sometimes it’s standing room only when cathedrals have a carol serviceWeihnachtsgottesdienstcarol service, and midnight Mass on Christmas EveHeiligabendChristmas Eve can be surprisingly busy anywhere.
What makes people want to go to church so late at night? I to suspectden Verdacht hegensuspect it’s because a lot of old Abba songs are played at noisy Christmas parties. Clearly, the words “Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight” are misheard as “Gimme, gimme, gimme amen after midnight”.
Theatres are also fuller than usual, because families go to modern twistmoderner, aktueller Akzentpantomimes. A Christmas panto is based on a fairy storyMärchenfairy story such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Retold as a family show, it has song, dance, colourful costumes, special effects, lots of cross-dressingRollentausch zwischen Männern und Frauencross-dressing and plenty of jokes.
Above all, though, it involves audience participation. This mainly takes the form of an argument with one of the actors. The formulaSchemaformula is always the same: if, say, the prince in Sleeping Beauty tells the audience that Princess Aurora is dead, the audience is quick to to contradictwidersprechencontradict, shouting, “Oh, no she isn’t!” But the prince doesn’t leave it at that. It’s now his turn to say, “Oh, yes she is!” This can go back and forth for some time. It’s repetitivesich wiederholendrepetitive. The dialogue is more on the level of the school playground than a tragedy by Sophocles, but it is great entertainment.
It’s the verbs that make all the difference. If you left them out, you’d just be shouting “yes” and “no”. Where’s the fun in that? And it’s so important to be able to disagree properly. Seeing a panto once a year really is the best kind of training.
Why do we need to practise disagreement and show that we’re sceptical? Because it’s not just pantos that tell us fairy stories. We’ll bracket outausklammernbracket out midnight Mass, where in any case, audience participation is probably less welcome. If you called out when the vicarPfarrervicar said something that seemed hard to believe, I doubt whether anyone else would join in.
We do hear a lot of nonsense in everyday life, however. There are ads on the telly for things that make us look young, slim and beautiful. Whenever you hear that a product is “clinically proven” to help you, it’s time to shout, “Oh, no it isn’t!”
There are also plenty of extremist politicians who seem to think they’re Prince CharmingMärchenprinz, TraumprinzPrince Charming and that a simplistic idea is the answer to a complex problem. All together now: “Oh, no it isn’t!” Some pantomimes take place inside a theatre, others outside it. If we tried to export open disbelief from the one to the other, it might help to shake us out of our usual stuporStumpfsinn, Benommenheitstupor.
It’s a waste of time trying to do that on Christmas Day, when we’ve had far too much to eat and drink and have sunk deep into our traditional Christmas mega stupor. Or, as Abba called it in a song that became one of their biggest hits: “Super stupor...”