Panto – A British Institution
Pantomime is a wonderfully British, if not a bit eccentric institution. Pantomime are staged during the Christmas period and are almost always set around the most loved famous children’s stories like Aladdin, Peter Pan and Cinderella, for example. Pantomime is performed not only in the top theatres in the country but also in small village halls and schools across the UK. Whether it’s performed by seasoned professionals or the local amateur dramatic company, pantomimes remain a well-attended and much-loved part of the winter season.
Audience participation is a very important part of a pantomime. The audience is told to boo and harangue the villain every time they enter the stage, heckle the Dame (always played by a man in drag) and warn the main male character (which is always a girl) when the villain is approaching by shouting “He’s behind you!”.
Slapstick comedy is another essential element of the British pantomime – custard pie throwing, the ugly sisters (also always men) tripping over, a load of bright and peculiar costumes, and the much-loved pantomime horse played by two individuals in a horse costume, one the head and the other unfortunate soul – the back end!
At the end of the show, the baddies have lost, true love is victorious, and of course, the story ends happily ever after. For more information about seeing a Pantomime Preston, visit a site like Lancashire Life, full of details on festive shows and Pantomime Preston.
So, what are the origins of this odd British custom?
Pantomime means “all kinds” of “mime”. It is generally thought that the British pantomime is modelled on early masques from the days of Elizabethan and Stuart performances. During the 14th century the early masques contained music, mime or spoken drama, usually enacted in large houses even throughout the 17th century they were really nothing more than an excuse to party than anything else!
British pantomime being staged at Christmas time and the main character being role reversed (main boy being a girl and Dame being a man) may also have evolved from Tudor “Feast of Fools”, headed by the Lord of Misrule. The party was a roguish affair, which involved a lot of drinking, carousing, and the reversal of roles.
The Lord of Misrule was played by a commoner, who knew how to have a good time and lead the entertainment. The festival is thought to originate from the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which occurred during winter and involved week long partying that saw masters allow their slaves and servants to play the boss for a while.