Christmas in Britain is one of the most wonderful things to experience. The streets are illuminated, Santa is making his rounds visiting children in town squares and markets are springing up selling handmade wares and mulled wine. Another thing that is prominent this time of year are the pantomimes. Pantomimes are embedded in British culture and are considered a “must” for many British families for tradition and laughs.
What is a Pantomime?
Pantomime is anything but a “mime” as the name may suggest. Instead, it’s a loud, fun, enjoyable musical comedy theatre production. It takes well-loved children’s classic tales like Cinderella, Snow White, Dick Whittington and Aladdin and turns them into a show full of giggles for kids and plenty of laughs for adults too with those subtle adult-minded jokes. Audience participation is greatly encouraged.
Pantomime (or just “panto”) gets its roots from 15th and 16th-century traditions of Commedia dell Arte, an early form of Italian theatre. The same “formula” for those productions are the same for British pantomime:
- The main male role is often played by a woman.
- A “Panto Dame” is a man in drag. He wears elaborate dresses with exaggerated makeup. This can be a character like Cinderella’s wicked stepmother or even the ugly stepsisters or Aladdin’s mother.
- There is always a sidekick of some sort as well! In Aladdin, it is a family member or Genie. Cinderella has her father’s servant. The sidekick’s job is to encourage the audience to get involved by shouting or clapping.
- There is a comedic animal involved, as in the cow in Jack in the Beanstalk. The animal is usually two actors in one costume.
- Although the stories may be classics, the jokes are always contemporary so that they are understood by the modern audience. There are also plenty of innuendos that make the adults giggle.
- Finally, what makes the panto is audience participation. The classic lines are “He’s behind you!” and “On no he’s not!” or “Oh yes he is!”
It was the Victorians that turned the show into two halves: the fairy tale and harlequinade where the characters “transform” with the use of a magic wand. The usage of trap doors and secret switches dazzled Victorian audiences and is still loved by children today.
Pantomimes often star British celebrities, especially in bigger cities. Sometimes even big Hollywood names have come over just to get involved in this British tradition, such as David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. The use of celebrities in the panto roles dates back for more than 100 years. Before television and film, well-known music hall stars and variety artistes were used.
Source: British Heritage
Where are Pantomimes performed?
This time of year, pantomimes can be found all over the country. Even small towns may put their own on in the local hall. They start popping up a few weeks before Christmas and often go into January. This list from TripSavvy will help you find pantos in your area of the UK: https://www.tripsavvy.com/panto-season-1661668.
Brits pride themselves on having a sense of humour. This sense of humour is often full of obvious jokes and slapstick comedy, but it brings the laughs. It also plays on the fact that Brits seem to love dressing up, and any chance for fancy dress is welcomed! That is what makes British pantomimes such an enjoyable experience and why Australians in the UK should take the time to go experience it for themselves too.
Want to experience life in Britain for yourself? Point to Point Education can help make it happen or Australians wanting to teach overseas. If you’re a qualified teacher looking for a new adventure, our team can help find the perfect placement in the UK, so you can immerse yourself in British traditions while making a difference. Call our team today to discuss in further detail how to do so.
(Image source: Carry On)