Sunday, 27 July 2014

My Life as a Tapestry - 4 (early strutting and fretting)

My parents were in a parish amateur dramatics group (which they started). Every Christmas the group did a pantomime, which Dad wrote and his brother Bernard put to music, and which we all acted in. 

English pantomime is known for its gender-bending: men play dames, women play principal boys. In this picture Mum is Prince Charming and a man called Cyril is Mrs. Baba (Ali’s mum) or Widow Twanky or whatever idiotic name Dad thought up for her. Dad is a villain naked in a barrel being kicked around the stage as usual. I’ve shown Gillian being upset by this because I remember that she was, just as I was, at her age, seeing him being manhandled in some Gilbert & Sullivan operetta that the local YMCA put on.

Susan is an Egyptian slave girl (all pantomimes have one) and I've drawn Bernard in broad arrows because that’s where he ended up, even though he was a respected headmaster of a primary school in Basildon. (More about this in a later tapestry, probably). 

I’m on the toilet, in a spotlight, for reasons I find difficult to explain (see below) but are sort of hinted at in the bad Latin caption ‘here the libido is diplayed - here is shame’.
In case anyone thinks putting on pantomimes was an odd thing for a family to be doing let me draw their attention to a story in the Guardian in December 2013 showing that it wasn’t an oddity confined to the Goodfellows, back in the early 1960s.
The tapestry borders depict some of the images and icons I associate with the theatre: ancient dramatic and more recent commercial symbols, accolades, greasepaint, light, scenery and all the arts of the mask. I and my siblings and cousins were stage-struck to various degrees, and Gillian and I went as far as trying it out professionally (although not mainstream naturally) in the course of our patchwork careers (see other tapestries yet to come).
This panel has taken me 8 months to complete, with more preparatory drawings and revisions than any of the previous three. Perhaps I’m becoming more self-critical (always likely) or perhaps because this is all getting bit Freudian – it expresses something of the ambivalence between excitement and shame that I have always felt about performance, and the possible relation of this ambivalence to oedipal views of my parents. Hence the toilet in the spotlight – a recurring dream of mine.

 (nb: I’ve noticed a general tendency towards the psychoanalytical in some of the graphic novelists that I read, eg: Alison Bechdel, Sawa Harasymowicz, but it ain’t normally me babe…)


  1. Very good, very honest, very brave. I presume the visual ref to "J Arthur" was not accidental!

    1. very subtle...
      dad worked for Rank as it 'appens so no innuendo there

  2. Why does Susan have snakes and lolly sticks sticking out of her tunic? Man, these tapestries are a psychoanalyst's dream.

    1. what you on? the 'snakes' are her arms and the 'lolly sticks' are her knees as any fule kno (my drawing not THAT bad)


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