Principal Boy

g39 solo show Sept 2022

“My thigh slapping days are over…”

Lamenting the passing of youth, and the demise of the pantomime Principal Boy, this new work by Ashill also celebrates and foregrounds questions of class, of queerness, gender nonconformity - and of the enduring lure of the am-dram pan-stick.

Funny and playful Ashill uses the do-it-yourself aesthetics of amateur dramatics to create costumes and sets in which they perform. The gallery space is built as a re-creation of Skull Island complete with a night sky and theatre curtains. This work by Ashill marries the imagery of pantomime, the principal boy and Peter Pan as a way of reclaiming space and reconnecting with their youth.

g39 is really pleased to be working with Ashill on this project that engages with gender fluidity and class structures, this solo exhibition is also produced with collaborators Common Wealth, Llanrumney as well as Len Blanco and Megan Winstone.

The long-standing tradition of the Principal Boy in pantomime began as a way to navigate strict laws in early theatre prohibiting the use of child actors and female performers. Women took up the role of the male protagonist in a Breeches Role - often balanced by males stepping into drag for the role of the dame. Tropes like thigh slapping - the physical and sexual act of emphasising your speech or emotion through whacking your thigh - signal the swap. Although less common in modern day panto, it is still a tradition in the role of Peter Pan. Pan is a character between worlds, described by J M Barrie as betwixt-and-between a boy and a bird, refusing to grow up. In this exhibition, Ashill does exactly that, dreaming of being one of the lost boys.

g39 Press 2022

© Kathryn Ashill 2023