What is Pantomime?
To the British, pantomime and the holiday season go hand in hand like "ice" and "hockey" do to Canadians. From the beginning of December to the end of January, pretty much every theatre (note the spelling!) in the UK stages some kind of pantomime. This is not an exaggeration either, when I say pretty much every theatre, I mean it. Unless you're talking about the big West End theatres with long running shows, you can expect to find local village and church halls, small town theatres and the big city playhouses jammed with families all enjoying some festive fun. But what is pantomime?
It's Not Mime... It's Yours
Not to be confused with "mime", where white faced, leotard clad, top hat wearers silently pretend to escape from behind a pane of glass, pantomime couldn't be further from that. It's probably the noisiest form of theatre you can imagine. The cast is an all-singing, all-dancing, comedy troupe and as such, you're never more than a few seconds away from a witty ditty or a toe-tapping show tune or some form of laugh-out-loud comedy, be it parody or sarcasm, double entendre or topical, slapstick or just plain silliness. Like a good Disney movie, the comedy works on multiple levels so you can be sure that there's something for everyone young and young at heart. And the audience are anything but quiet too. From uproarious laughter to helpful shouts out of useful information such as the location of bad guys ("he's behind you!") or correcting the actors with responsive chants ("Oh no he isn't!", "Oh yes he is!").
Typically pantomimes take a traditional and familiar fairy story such as Cinderella, Aladdin, Dick Whittington or Jack and the Beanstalk and jazz it up for a family audience.
Here's an example of some UK Pantomime posters from the last few years:
Pantomime Characters - The Goodies, The Baddies and the Uglies
Pantomime has been transformed over the years and today you can expect to find some of the following types of characters:
- A narrator character to help move the story along, such as Buttons in Cinderella - a loveable character who gains the trust of the audience and journey's along with them
- A bad guy such as the Lord who is planning to take Jack and his mom's house in Jack and the Beanstalk - expect this character to be the recipients of lots of boos from boys and girls and moms and dads
- One or two pantomime dames - these are usually guys dressed up as women, such as Widow Twankee (Aladdin's mom) or the ugly sisters in Cinderella
- The heroine, be it a Princess or someone on the road to becoming a Princess is played by an attractive female
- The hero is an odd role, although they generally have a love interest with the heroine, they can be played by either a male or female. When it is played by a female, it is clear that they are supposed to be men and, unlike the pantomime dames, there's no hint of innuendo or comedy with this role.
- A magical character, such as Genie in Aladdin or the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. This is usually a serious role but many pantomimes take advantage of some poetic license and add some comical characteristics.
- Where relevant to the storyline, a pantomime animal will make an appearance. Sometimes this will be a real animal such as the horse drawing the carriage in Cinderella but more often, for practical reasons, it will be actor(s) in costume such as Daisy the cow in Jack and the Beanstalk with one actor playing the front and one actor playing the back.
Have a Laugh On/At Us
Whatever format pantomime takes, you can be guaranteed that you and your family will have a fantastic time, sharing laughs and building lasting memories that you will treasure. What better way to introduce children to a little culture and the arts getting them away from TV and video games if just for a few hours. Who knows? Maybe pantomime will become an annual family tradition for your family like it is for millions of Brit's.
We hope to see you in December 2011 and hopefully every year thereafter.