Pantomimes are embedded in British culture. They are a must for many families and considered traditional or a great day out for the whole family. You will see them saturating theatres in the UK during the Christmas period and may also come across smaller pantomime productions during February, Easter or summer holidays.
What is Pantomime or “Panto”?
The oxford dictionary’s definition of Pantomime is "theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas". The name may make you think of “mime” but Panto is anything but! It’s loud, there is shouting, singing, dialogue with plenty of music and madness!
Is it a musical? Is it a play? Is it a comedy sketch?
I think the best way to describe Pantomime is a musical comedy theatre production. It has got something for everyone. Dancing, comedy, singing, music, fantastic costumes, slapstick, spectacle, and magic to name a few but not forgetting, the most important factor to take into consideration the audience participation.
This is what sets panto aside from other productions as the audience are involved in every scene whether they are saying hello to a character each time they step on stage, shouting the most well-known phrases “Oh no it’s not!” or “It’s behind you!” or perhaps and not forgetting “booing” or “hissing” at the baddie! The audience are so involved in the show they even have lines in the script although they have never seen the script, they deliver them at the right times, how you ask? Well, that’s just Panto magic.
Seven – 70?
There are few shows you could take a seven-year-old child and seventy-year-old to, that would be equally enjoyed by both. But Panto is different – there is humour for the children and for the adults (which will go over the children’s heads) the spectacle of the show, slapstick, effects, dancing, songs and music can be enjoyed by all.
Every show is different
I am not just talking about different theatres or production companies I am talking about the same run of shows. Part of the beauty of pantomime is that every show is different due to two factors, a)the audience and b) the cast.
Audiences can vary, and where pantomime demands audience participation this can affect the performance. Some audiences can be quieter than others, (not that they don’t appreciate the performance but are just are a little reserved) in comparison to a louder, bolder audience who will not hold back. Shouting spontaneous remarks and arguing with some characters – normally the baddies! The cast must improvise around these comments and work the audience to get the answers they need. For example, there is a ghost behind them and only a few people are shouting “behind you” the actors will have to milk the audience until as many as possible are shouting at the obviously placed ghost.
Pantomime is notorious for improvisation, some scheduled, and some not. Although there is a script, a very well-rehearsed script at that! There is normally one, or two (if the director has been blessed with the gift of two) cast members that find it hard to stick to script or are so good at improvising they get carried away and create hilarious sketches on the stage. Luckily, there is always one sensible cast member who manages to curb the side tracking and get back on track. Therefore, it’s different every time as no one can predict exactly what will happen or who will do what during some parts of the performance.
What’s the story about?
Most pantomimes are based on a fairy tale, nursery, or classic children’s story. Some productions write original stories or a play on a more traditional tale. Some examples and the stories that is the most popular Cinderella, Aladdin and Snow White. Some rarer productions that we see these days are Mother Goose and Hansel and Gretel.
Pantomime is very important and sometimes the only live theatre experience people will go to. The memories of a pantomime will stay with a child (and adults) for life. They are immersive and incomparable to other productions. You will see them being produced and performed in schools, church halls, amateur theatres, professional theatres, workplaces and more recently especially during 2020/2021 Panto season online!
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