Every year thousands of people across the UK are proud to state that they do indeed attend a Christmas pantomime, and they love it! It’s the perfect piece of family entertainment with ‘something for everyone’, or so we’re told. But what exactly is ‘something’ and what is it referring to, really? We’ve put together a list of the best bits about any panto, and what they mean to us as an audience.
The first thing that comes to mind when discussing pantomimes is of course the multitude of dances and songs. You can always count on a panto to have a range of musical features; love songs, upbeat dance numbers, and that one catchy chorus that is repeated over and over again until you can’t help but sing it under your breath at work three weeks later. This of course is not helped by the masses of children screeching it very badly and very out of tune for even longer afterwards. But isn’t that what pantos are all about? Getting you so involved in the fairy-tale brought to life in front of you that you can’t help but think about it for days afterwards?
These days it’s impossible to go two feet in the entertainment world without stumbling upon some kind of retelling of a classic tale; whether it’s the glorified Disney versions or a darker tale, closer to the original telling. We just can’t escape them.
But pantos are just so different, so close and personal. Although you know that everything is going to end happily ever after you can’t help but hope that Cinderella escapes her stepmother, and Rapunzel leaves her tower, and that everything will be alright in the end. There’s an important difference here, I think, between the magic we see on screen and the magic we see on stage. Although the stories may essentially be the same there are often key differences – different characters, different settings, different songs, which reiterate to both adults and children alike that a happy ending can come about in different ways. And I think that’s beautiful.
The one thing that puts a lot of people off pantomimes is the requirement for audience participation. Whether it’s booing the villain off the stage or singing along with the fairy godmother, a lot of the more self-conscious members of our society feel embarrassed by such nonsense. But that’s the beauty of it – it is pure nonsense. There is no need for anything occurring in that theatre to have any impact on any other part of life. It is made to be seen and enjoyed, and maybe keep the audience smiling through the stressful holiday season. It encourages people to make noise and be heard and participate in something bigger than themselves, making even the shyest of children that little bit more confident.
Okay let’s admit it – nine times out of ten, the script is definitely the best part about a pantomime, even if you have to pretend that you don’t understand the blatant sex references in front of Grandma. The point is the innuendos are right there, dressed up in tutus and sparkly lights with all signs pointing straight to them, and the kids don’t even notice. It just serves to make them even funnier. But moving on from the innuendos, the sheer quality of the puns and terrible jokes cannot be denied. I know, I know. Puns and one liners are terrible, just terrible. But you can’t help but smirk anyway, right? You might even steal a few to break out over Christmas dinner once the crackers have been exhausted.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, theatre is without a doubt the best place, aside a visit to Santa Claus himself, to instil the magic of Christmas in people of any age. There is something special about the ‘magic’ onstage being so close and tangible that lends you to think that there might, just might, be some truth behind it.
But let’s not forget the theatres themselves! Most families will attend a local theatre to watch a pantomime and I cannot stress enough how important this is for them. Christmas is the busiest time of year for any business, and for many smaller theatres it is the only time that they really show what they can do. So even if you do nothing else next Christmas, please drop your local actors a visit.
I promise it will be worth it.