One of our charming, if slightly bonkers, national traits is the impulse to celebrate each calendar highlight out of doors. Perhaps there really was a time when maypole ribbons whirled gaily at the start of summer and hogs roasted undoused by autumn storms and all was idyllic in the bucolic daze of yore. Climate's changed, but optimistic exuberance lingers on. Frome's Christmas Spectacular last Sunday had a full programme from noon till nightfall. On Catherine Hill rain sluiced steadily down the cobbles as stall holders crouched under cover and the chocolate soup stand did steady trade. Over in the market yard two small reindeer stood resignedly as small hands emerged from umbrellas to pet them, and pools of water were being swept out from the Teenage Kicks tent.
And now silver snowflakes are glowing along the main street, M&S is plying shoppers with port and mincepies, the Pogues are back on the radio... it's definitely that time of year again.
Which is, in theatre world, panto time.
Most pantomimes, whatever the title, follow a simple storyline: a couple of men in frocks & wigs being silly, and a goody-goody girl who ends up with the prince. The first part is the bit everyone likes best, so why not have three men in frocks & wigs, and the girl a bit of a Violet Elizabeth Bott who eventually chooses the dwarf instead of lovely Prince of the Golden Halls despite the prince's white tights and habit of loping through the forest like a Monty Python knight on the quest of the Holy Grail?
But don't think Miracle Theatre's winter show The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin is all just transvestites and tantrums, despite the prominence of a menopausal forest fairy: this tale, based apparently on the writings of Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy, is embedded within a tale of an 1830s troup of travelling players, and the pantomime set is embedded in a stage set, with the actions of the actors off-stage as part of the on-stage action, if you see what I mean. It's a clever device, not only enhancing the humour but also giving us an extra chance to enjoy the dressing ups and downs, and in the Merlin performance bringing a local edge to the show by allowing a mini subplot featuring an intruding scallywag chased by a peeler, and some very sweet little girls dancing. With or without the interruptions, this is as charming and entertaining a show as you're likely to see anywhere this panto season. A wonderfully spirited cast: Ben Dyson as the effeminate prince/aka Mr Carter, and Tom Adams's Mr Ffitch singing his way through the roles of Queen and fierce fairy, are particularly splendid.
Footnote of the week: Has it come to this? another futile salvo in the gender war as Lily Allen complains she's been tagged 'the female version of The Streets.'
Lily lovey, that's because Mike Skinner came first. If you'd had a breakthrough hit in 2001, followed up with groundmaking material every year since, and he'd been the one to emerge in 2006 - with Smile - maybe people would refer to his band as 'the male version of Lily Allen'... Or maybe he'd still be hailed as "the most original, lyrical British rap in memory".
If I was you I'd wear the badge with respect.