IN THE great pantomime tradition, women play men, men play women, the script is packed with double entendre and the audience is invited to heckle.
All this, as well as the larger-than-life cast and characters, was enough to inspire comedian John Bishop to write his first television script.
The 46-year-old has joined forces with Gimme Gimme Gimme and Coronation Street writer Jonathan Harvey to write Panto!, a one-off comedy drama which is perfect for the season.
Set behind the scenes at the Grand Theatre Lancaster’s production of Dick Whittington, Panto! tells the tale of local radio DJ Lewis Loud (played by Bishop) making his pantomime debut alongside soap star Tamsin (Sheridan Smith), who’s better known as her ’Mad Mindy The Axe Murderer’ alter ego.
Bishop describes Lewis as someone who puts his work – and thirst for fame – ahead of anything else in his life.
He says: “He desperately wants to be famous and be recognised on the street. He sees his radio show as a stepping stone to becoming this person.”
Bishop should be able to relate, in some ways, to Lewis because, before the days of his own headline tours, DVDs and book deals, one of his first jobs in showbiz was in pantomime.
Just before quitting his job in pharmaceutical sales to give his performing career a proper go, Bishop dipped his toe in the water by performing stand-up in various comedy nights in the North West and, in Christmas 2005, appeared in Snow White in Liverpool.
“I was playing Herman The Henchman,” he recalls. “But as it was over the Christmas period I had a lot of other comedy gigs to honour so I couldn’t focus properly on being Herman. I basically didn’t end up doing the first two weeks so when I did go on I felt like it was a bit of a shambles.”
He’s since starred in other pantomimes, including one alongside The One And Only singer Chesney Hawkes. The two have remained mates and, as a result, Hawkes pops up in Panto!, playing a one-hit wonder.