I do love a good night at the theatre. Everything about the theatre-going experience is something to be enjoyed and remembered, from taking that first step into those sumptuous surroundings to – well, every moment of what happens on the stage. I’ve been to see a wide range of productions, such as comedies, dramas and jukebox musicals – what makes theatre so special is that each and every production you go to see, be it a play or a musical and regardless of its content, will leave you with a sense of satisfaction and a warm glow of pleasure in the pit of your stomach. It doesn’t matter if it made you laugh or made you cry or, God forbid, made you think; what theatre does is to make you feel. There’s usually something to be found within the music and dancing, etc. that will resonate with you and draw you into the world that’s being created onstage, that is exactly why I do love it. Theatre entertains and we all love to be entertained. Still, you don’t have to travel to London’s West End for a good spot of on-stage entertainment. It’s Christmas and everyone in Britain knows what that means: Panto Season!
Dating back to Ancient Greece, pantomime first appeared in this country as a way to keep audiences amused between opera pieces. It seems they eventually realised how entertaining panto actually is though, as it gradually developed into a separate art form. I doubt today’s panto’s were quite the same as what they were used to back then.
Pantomime has now become a staple of the traditional British Christmas. Some of my best childhood memories involve our annual family trips to Catford for the panto, and now I have my own daughter to take along, the purpose of motherhood has been revealed to me. Of course I am joking, but one of the things I look forward to most at Christmas is ‘mummy-and-daughter panto’. The first time she went, it was to see Jack and the Beanstalk. She was three and was either going to love it or hate it – thankfully I didn’t end up being one of those parents who carries their child out crying hysterically as she more than loved it; she was absolutely spellbound. I’ll never forget how her little mouth just dropped open as the curtain opened and the first big, bright and loud song-and-dance number began…
Pantomime was her first real taste of theatre and although she’s growing up, she hasn’t yet outgrown the ability to enjoy a bit of panto. Does anyone? I joke that the only reason my mum invites us up at Christmas is so that she has an excuse to go to the local pantomime – but I think it’s actually true! The day after I agreed to spend Christmas 2011 with her in Lincolnshire, she rang to tell me she’d booked panto tickets.
Whenever we’re here for Christmas, we go to the Guildhall Arts Centre in Grantham to see the Polka Dot Theatre Company in whichever panto is being staged that year. We’ve seen Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and, this years offering, Cinderella. Every panto story has its own unique characters who pop up year after year, no matter where or by whom the production is staged: Cinderella has Buttons (Cinderella’s silly best friend), Dandini (Prince Charming’s servant) and the Ugly Step-sisters (usually played by men in drag). Grantham’s Cinderella had all these, along with the customary moments which you’ll find in any British pantomime: children calling out a particular phrase if anyone tries to take the object set near the front of the stage (for our audience, it was a –weeing – Scooby Doo and the phrase was ‘Who let the dogs out?’); a haunted wood where four of the panto’s characters get chased away by something scary (this year, it was an evil tiger) and, perhaps the best aspect of panto, rude jokes that go waaaay over the kids’ heads.
Panto is also the place to find either celebrities, or musical theatre performers who are currently resting. I know a lot of West End-ers who are doing panto this year, not just in London but all across the country; I also know of those who look down on people who do panto. Why? Yes, panto is silly and ridiculous and completely cheesy, but by God is it fun! It’s great entertainment that brings the whole family together – surely that’s something to be encouraged in this day and age? And just because it’s panto, that doesn’t mean the quality of the cast is compromised. I’ve seen some superb singers in panto and did I mention the West End stars? Lest we forget, if you had been in Chatham to see Aladdin in 2000, you would have seen Ramin Karimloo in the title role – his first ever since moving to the UK. Just look where he is now.
Pantomime is such an ingrained part of British Christmas-time that I simply cannot imagine what or yuletide season would be like without it. Grown-ups love it, kids love it –now we just need to get the Americans to get a sense of humour so they’ll love it too! To be serious, I really do think panto is the perfect introduction to theatre for the younger generation and, at twenty-seven years of age, I still laugh and shout and clap along: I’m still not too old for panto and I hope I never will be. Please, if you haven’t been yet, do go along to your local theatre this January. We’ve all had the best time at the pantomime today and I’m just sad it’s over for another year – but not to worry. Next Christmas… “We’ll have to do it again then won’t we?”
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
28th December 2011