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Panto: It's not behind you!

13 Nov 2019

It’s the time of year when many of us start thinking ahead and planning for Christmas. One of those time honoured traditions of the festive season is the Christmas Pantomime! Ever wondered when the Pantomime tradition started?

The word pantomime was adopted from the Latin word pantomimus, which is drerived from the Greek words “panto” meaning “all”, and “mimos”, meaning a dancer who acted all the roles or all the story.

Traditionally Pantomimes is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and (to a lesser extent) in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It employs gender-crossing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. Pantomime is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.

In the Middle Ages, the “Mummers Play” was a traditional English folk play, based loosely on the Saint George and the Dragon legend, usually performed during Christmas gatherings, which contained the origin of many of the archetypal elements of the pantomime, such as stage fights, coarse humour and fantastic creatures, gender role reversal, and good defeating evil. It developed partly from the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition of troups of travelling entertainers performing comedic moral tales around Italy and other European and British stage traditions, such as 17th-century masques and music hall.

Some of the most popular pantomime stories include Cinderella, Aladdin, Dick Whittington and His Cat and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as well as Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty.and Mother Goose. Classic conventions of the Pantomime include: 

• The leading male juvenile character (the principal boy) is traditionally played by a young woman in male garments (such as breeches). 

• An older woman (the pantomime dame – often the hero’s mother) is usually played by a man in drag. 

• Risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases. This is, in theory, over the heads of the children in the audience and is for the entertainment of the adults. • Audience participation, including calls of “He’s behind you!” and “Oh, yes it is!” and “Oh, no it isn’t!” The audience is always encouraged to hiss the villain and “awwwww” the poor victims, such as the rejected dame, who is usually enamoured with one of the male characters. 

• Music may be original but is more likely to combine well-known tunes with re-written lyrics. At least one “audience participation” song is traditional: one half of the audience may be challenged to sing “their” chorus louder than the other half. 

• The animal is often a pantomime horse or cow (though could even be a camel if appropriate to the setting), played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.

So this Christmas, why not have some fun and pop along to your nearest Panto! How about Cinderella?

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