Xmas Panto: Wintle’s Wonders by Noel Streatfeild



also published as Dancing Shoes


published 1957


 
Wintle's Wonders 2


[Child star Dulcie is appearing in a pantomime of Red Riding Hood, watched by her cousin Rachel]

Although Rachel did not care for pantomimes, nobody can help feeling a thrill as the houselights dim and the curtain rises.

The first scene in Red Riding Hood was a village street. The chorus came on, dancing and singing…. Then from both sides of the stage, wearing print frocks and sun-bonnets, or shorts, shirts and little straw hats, with enormous energy, on bounced the twelve Wonders. Then came two funny men, then it was Dulcie’s entrance.

Dulcie wore a short frilly frock, white socks, red awkward-Adas [dancing shoes] and a little cape and hood of red taffeta. She looked delightful. Then, soon after her first entrance, she sang a song. It was about a doll, and behind her the Wonders danced dressed as dolls.


Wintle's Wonders 1

There was no doubt about it, the audience loved Dulcie.

….At the end of the second act of the pantomime every character appeared in the land of flowers. This was ruled over by the Fairy Queen, who was called White Rose. In this scene the chorus appeared as different garden flowers, though the Wonders, for some reason, were dressed as buttercups.
 

Wintles wonders 3


commentary: In a recent entry on Ellie Griffiths Smoke and Mirrors, I said
I’m wondering if I can possibly explain the nature of the British pantomime to my worldwide readers – its importance, its universality, but its very local feel.
I decided the answer was No. So it’s enough to say it is a vital Xmas entertainment, requiring very varied talents, and usually including child performers along with adults. So the ideal setting for a Noel Streatfeild book.

Then, finding a Dulcie in the recent Babbacombe’s (written by Noel Streatfeild under a pseudonym) made me think of another Dulcie – the villain of this treasured book.

Nothing will ever challenge Ballet Shoes in my personal Streatfeild pantheon, (and see the panto in it here) but this is probably the runnerup. It is sharper and colder that Ballet Shoes: Mrs Wintle runs troupes of dancing children in the London suburbs, and it all sounds a lot less fun than Madame Fidolia’s Academy. Mrs W has a spoilt princess of a daughter, Dulcie, who is a hugely talented dancer singer and actress. Because of some deaths in the family, relations Rachel and Hilary come to stay. Hilary, as it turns out, is also a very good dancer – surely she couldn’t be competition for Dulcie? Rachel, meanwhile is the most miserable, surely, of all Noel S’s misfit kids. She hates dancing, doesn’t look right, and is wrongly accused of being jealous of Hilary.

It’s the usual highly enjoyable and very detailed tale, but a cool and slightly cynical one, with some surprises – more in a future entry. But the fun aspect is well to the fore: the non-intellectual Hilary ‘fell flat on the floor pretending to faint’ because Rachel wants her birthday treat to involve Shakespeare.

Rachel worries: ‘Aunt Cora had never called her ‘childie’ before and she thought the sudden use of so odd a word sinister.’ (There is similar splendid use of this strange word in Georgette Heyer’s Envious Casca, along with ‘girlie’.)

There is a row between two of the staff at the dancing school, and, rumours spreading, Hilary wants to believe the worst:
‘Did Mrs Storm say she would rather lie down in the road and be run over by a bus than teach Dulcie, and did Aunt Cora beat her with her umbrella?’
The answer is no, but Hilary puts her hands over her ears because she prefers the gossip version.

And – my favourite line – when the dancing troupes are being decimated by illness, the ones who ate the bad crab sandwiches ‘couldn’t fancy dancing as oysters feeling queasy.’

More clothes and more plot to look at it in future entries.

I found the poster on Pinterest. Little Red Riding Hood from Flickr. Dulcie is so knowing that I thought the grown-up RRH (at a Halloween parade) represented one aspect – this was on Wikimedia and was by ChrisGampat. He called it Red Riding Hood as Marilyn Monroe .




















Comments

  1. One of these days, Moira, I will have to see a proper panto. I never have, 'though I've read about panto, and it sounds so interesting. And, of course, a great context for a story, too, especially on with those sorts of characters.

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    1. It is a unique form of entertainment, Margot, you must try to catch it sometime. And as you point out - good for the novels. They have huge casts of all kinds and ages of entertainers, so lots of possibilities.

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  2. This book was a family favourite, and the vile Dulcie-Pulsey is one of the great (although utterly believable) child monsters in fiction. I especially love the bit when Hilary gives her a ringing slap for laughing at Rachael wearing frills. Can't wait for your next entry on it!

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    1. You're just proving my point that it's the connoisseur's Streatfeild. You're right - that scene - and the touching-ness of the realization that Hilary was trying so hard to make Rachel look good.

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  3. I had never heard of these books or the author until I read your posts. Very interesting, with nice images.

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    1. It's a very British Christmas thing, Tracy - and I always love reading about child performers, even though I had not the slightest inclination or talent that way myself.

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  4. Moira, I'm with Tracy on this author and her books. I will check out some of her children's titles.

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    1. She paints such a good picture of Britain in her era, Prashant, and is fascinating on the subject of theatricals, and both child and adult actors...

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