It’s that time of year. The Christmas and new year period is also referred to as the Pantomime season in the UK. The Pantomime (or “panto” as it is mostly referred to) is as much part of the British Christmas as Turkey and cranberry sauce. In its modern form I would go as far as saying that it is uniquely British; but as with all things theatrical pantomime has its roots in ancient Greece. The word comes from the Latin pantomimus, which itself is derived from the Greek word παντόμιμος (pronounced pantomimos), consisting of παντο- (panto-) which means “all”, and μῖμος (mimos), meaning a dancer who acted all the roles or all the story.
Pantomima is also a Spanish word meaning mimed theatre or farce. Not too different from the British interpretation of old fairy stories
Despite all of the roots and definition similarities in other languages the modern pantomime remains a uniquely British institution. Part of the Christmas celebrations performed everywhere from school Christmas productions & concerts to local amateur and community theatres, to large West End productions featuring well known TV and Film actors. (Also – it has to be said – some not so well known “celebrities” and assorted “Z-listers”.)
Fun for all the family…
We took Dani to see his first pantomime at a local amateur dramatics theatre with his nana. The theatre was small enough to be close to the action. The panto was “Dick Whittington and his Cat”. A story I can barely remember from my own childhood but that is not the point. This being panto the theatrical licence meant that the story switched seamlessly (well almost) from the streets of London to a desert island via a ‘Pirates of the Carribbean’ style act which included a rendition of The Village People’s “In the Navy”.
That is the essence of panto. Complete mayhem and slapstick which can twist and turn any way the director wants to take it. All with a basic storyline that all ages are familiar with. There are few rules, if any.
From Laughter to Tears…
It was all very well done and quite funny in parts. To keep the parents and grandparents interested they make sure there is as much adult humour in the production as things for the kids. Even Dani’s miserable old dad had a good laugh.
Dani was enjoying the whole thing until near the end when he went from laughing to crying in the space of a moment. When the inevitable confrontation came between the heroes and the pantomime’s villain – one King Rat – the ensuing commotion and audience screaming scared the little boy out of his wits. But it was what went on below the rows of seats that sent the action out into the audience.
I will admit to adding to his shock and surprise because it caught me by surprise. A nice touch by the producers; blasting air through the plastic tubes they had laid out beneath the rows of seats causing tails to flutter like rats scurrying around your feet. When the older kids screamed – mostly in surprise and delight – Dani started to freeze up. Then when the line of “rats” shot under our feet and his own dad jumped it proved too much. He lost touch with reality and believed the “rats” under the seats were real. He was crying and very afraid. All I could do was keep hold of him and reassure him that it as not real and that the goodies were now beating the baddies in the on-stage “fight”.
The power of live panto on a 4-year-old child eh…Amazing. When it all calmed down he still managed to walk up to the cast members for them to sign his panto programme. Even the King Rat himself, who as it turned out was a really nice guy. Dani left the theatre slightly bemused but still talking about the slapstick and action he had just witnessed. His first experience of the magic of Panto.