Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's time for Panto!

Thanks to Flighty for the reminder that it's That time of year. Yes, indeed it's Christmas time and in Britain, that means it's panto time! Pantomimes are a tradition in British theatres. They are nearly always based on well-known children's stories or fairy tales. Some of the most popular pantomimes are "Cinderella", "Snow White", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Aladdin", and "Peter Pan" and a variety of these stories are acted out up and down the country in professional and amateur productions. A very odd (but hilarious!) feature of panto is that the lead male role is played by a woman and the lead female roles are played by men. The costumes are usually very elaborate and colourful and the whole production can be quite impressive. Panto is fantastic family entertainment and a great way to introduce the joy of theatre to children. I still remember one production of "Cinderella" we took our sons to see and how thrilled we were to see real Shetland ponies being used to pull the carriage on stage. Sadly, it looks like that particular bit of panto tradition is ending because it breaches rules on health and safety and animal welfare. The professional productions almost always star some well-known TV celebrities. Sometimes they are actors from British soap-operas or from Australian soap operas. A few years ago, a couple American actors (Patrick Duffy and Henry Winkler) came over to take part in pantomimes. Henry Winkler is returning this year (his third year) to star in a panto as Captain Hook in a panto in Milton Keynes and another American actor, Steve Guttenberg, is doing his first panto this year as Baron Hard-up in the production of Cinderella in Bromley, Kent. As much as I enjoy the professional pantos and seeing famous actors, I think the amateur pantos are often the best ones. The Big Panto Guide :find a Pantomime in the UK 2008-2009 Milton Keynes Theatre: Henry Winkler, Andy Ford and Louisa Lytton (Eastenders, Strictly Come Dancing, and The Bill) star in Peter Pan The Churchill Theatre: Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy, Three Men And A Baby, Cocoon), Helen Lederer (Absolutely Fabulous), Laura Hamilton (Nickelodeon), Mark Evans (Troy from High School Musical at Hammersmith Apollo), Tucker and David Langham & John Barr (As the Ugly Sisters) star in Cinderella


  1. Thanks for the mention and link!
    I used to work with a couple of people who did amateur theatricals and they really looked forward to this time of year when they would be in the panto.
    It's good to see that this tradition is still going strong despite the various changes that have been imposed on it. xx

  2. You're welcome, flighty!

    I bet it's a lot of fun to be in a panto. I could never do it myself but I admire those who do.

    It is good that this old British tradition is still going strong and still appeals to modern audiences. I hope it never stops.

  3. When I try to explain pantos to my friends here, they always look at me and say "Why?" Pantos don't translate very well at all!

  4. LOL - I know what you mean.

    I think it's one of those eccentric British traditions that you have to see in person to appreciate!

  5. I've never been a fan of the Panto. I find them a bit tacky to be honest.
    My mam always took my daughter to see one until she was 8 and although she doesn't like them now I think she is grateful for the memories! :o)

  6. That's okay, Daffy, I realize some people don't enjoy pantomimes! LOL - I suppose some of them are a bit tacky as you say.

    I think what makes them so much fun though is that panto is aimed at families and the way audience participation is encouraged. It's also a good way for children to be introduced to theatre.

  7. I am an American (from Indiana) living in England for the last 5 years with my English husband, with 4 daughters between us (2 American, 2 English). This is now my 5th panto season and each year I love them more.
    You have touched on most of the reasons they are great, but let's not forget their racy humour that probably goes over the children's heads anyway, but still would never be seen in an American play aimed at the younger audience. And would Americans have men dressing up as women making these racy jokes? I think not. This is one of the many things that makes life in England a joy. Humour that children grow up with, instead of being sheltered from.
    I think America would benefit from this great British tradition, but I am afraid they are too serious and too worried about offending anyone to stage one as well as the English.
    So I will happily stay in this green and pleasant land and look forward to pantomimes and so many other wonderful traditions done the way only the English can!

  8. Hello IndyJen, thanks for your comment - it's great to hear from another American expat!

    Yes, you're right about the kind of humour that pantos are known for - it is quite racy as you say with a lot of double meanings and sexual innuendo. As you say the humour goes over the heads of the children (thankfully!) but it is an important part of pantomimes.

    I've often wondered if pantomimes would work in America. Somehow, I don't think they would be the same and I doubt they would ever be as entertaining as they are here.

  9. On Saturday, I took my daughter to Cinderella. It was at a dinner theater, but at lunchtime and clearly aimed at kids. I'd assumed it would be pretty straight, and probably rather sparkly and glam. In fact it was rather like a pantomime, less audience involvement and not so raucous, but the ugly sisters were men in drag. I couldn't explain that to my daughter, and she is still mystified by it. At least Prince Charming was a boy. So maybe pantomime is creeping over here.

  10. How very interesting, Iota! I have never heard about pantomimes in the USA. I suppose if it can be done, why not? After all, it's another source of entertainment and of course a way to make money. It makes me rather sad though to think pantomimes might become popular in the USA. I like the fact that it's something unique to British culture.