By Wendy Hughes
Theatres up and down the country have opened their doors to begin the Pantomime season, and having missed a pantomime for several years, I already have my ticket for Aladdin at Bognor Regis with a friend. We shall treat ourselves to a lunch before enjoying an afternoon of fun and laughter.
But what is a Pantomime (or ‘Panto’ for short!)? In a nutshell it is a traditional British Christmas play, but it really came from very un-British traditions, and had nothing to do with Christmas whatever! It is primarily a children’s entertainment show, in the theatre, based on traditional children’s fairy stories such as Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Cinderella, ,and Mother Goose, but it really began as an entertainment for adult and is now enjoyed by young and old alike. Pantomimes take place around the Christmas period and are nearly always based on well known children’s stories such as Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc. Pantomimes are performed not only in the best theatres in the land but also in village halls throughout Britain and are always well attended.
Audience participation is a very important part of a pantomime. The audience are encouraged to boo the villain whenever he enters the stage, argue with the Dame (who is always a man) and warn the Principal Boy (who is always a girl) when the villain is behind them by shouting out “He’s behind you.
An example in a version of Snow White the wicked queen would say to the audience,’ I am the fairest of them all’
The audience would respond ‘Oh no you’re not.’
Queen – ‘Oh yes I am’.
Audience – ‘Oh no you’re not’.
Slapstick is another important part of a British pantomime with the throwing of custard pies, the ugly sisters falling over, and lots of silly brightly coloured costumes. There is also the pantomime horse which is played by two people in a horses’ costume.
The timing of the British pantomime at Christmas and the role reversal of the lead characters may have evolved from the Tudor Feast of Fools that was presided over by the Lord of Misrule. The feast was an unruly event, involving much drinking, revelry and role reversal. The Lord of Misrule, normally a commoner with a reputation of knowing how to enjoy himself, was selected to direct the entertainment. And the festival is thought to have originated from the benevolent Roman masters who allowed their servants to be the boss for a while.
But whatever its origins by the end of the pantomime the villain has been defeated, true love has conquered all and everyone lives happily ever after and everyone goes home having enjoyed the show.