What is Panto?

In the UK a Pantomime, or “Panto” as it is usually affectionately called, is a form of interactive theatre, performed around the Christmas season for the entertainment of millions of families. Many of the stories are based on popular, even if slightly skewed, Fairy Tales. Children love to see their favourite stories and characters played out on the stage, they particularly enjoy the physical comedy and the over the top characters.

Everyone is encouraged to “dress-up” as their favorite character, and if there is one thing kids love, it’s dressing up in costume! The adults certainly get enough innuendo and double entendre of the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” variety to keep them rolling in the aisles. Panto is guaranteed to give the entire family a rolicking good time.

The origins of Pantomime, date back to the middle ages. Panto blends the traditions of the Italian Commedia dell Arte with British “Old Time” Music Hall. “Commedia dell Arte” was travelling street entertainment, which came from Italy in the 16th century. It was a very energetic type of theatre that used dance, music, tumbling, acrobatics and slapstick comedy. The troupes performed in fairs and market places. Often the troupes were made up of family members who would inherit their characters, costumes, masks and stories from their parents or grandparents.

To the uninitiated, however, the humour, insane plot and the cast with the extremely silly character names may leave you absolutely flummoxed as to what on earth is going on. It is difficult to describe in words what Panto is all about.


How Old Does My Child Need To Be To Enjoy Panto?

Panto is designed to be entertaining for both Adults and Children. However, there are some parts of the performance that can seem ‘scary’ and might frighten younger children. So the rule of thumb is: If your child can watch a “Disney” or “Shrek” like movie, complete with their ‘scary’ moments, then they should have no problem with a Panto.

A Typical Panto Story Line…

“A girl, who is actually a girl playing the part of a boy (the Hero), who is the son of a man, who is actually playing the part of a woman (the Dame), will fall in love with a girl who is playing the part of a girl (the Heroine). The girl dressed as the boy will sometimes be assisted by one or two men (or it could be women) dressed up as a cow, or a horse or any other animal the scriptwriters dream up. Then a magical fairy (played by either sex) shows up and makes things (worse / better) work out in the end… or do they…” Are you with us so far?…

What Are The Rules of Panto?

Audience participation is probably the most important part of British Pantomime tradition. Even the most serious and mature members of the audience, suddenly become uninhibited in their enthusiasm to join in. Heckling is also encouraged and can lead to some hilarious ad-libs from the cast. To help you get started, here are a few staple rules for interaction with the characters on stage!

1. CHEER THE HERO! The audience is actively encouraged to cheer, clap and stomp your feet for the Hero!  It is usually met with a healthy slap of the thigh from the Hero as well as a hearty hello!

2. BOO THE VILLAIN! Remember to BOO! or HISS! whenever you see the Villain stride onto stage! The villain can take many faces, Ugly Stepsister, Evil Queen, Nasty Ogre, or Horrible Henchmen… beware their sharp tongues!

3. OH YES IT IS / OH NO IT’s NOT! Often during the performance, an argument will break out and it is up to the audience to either agree or disagree with the statement, the louder the better! If you find your self agreeing with the statement, then yell “OH YES IT IS!”, otherwise its pretty obvious to shout “OH NO IT’S NOT”  Here’s and example…

Dame: “I’m the most beautiful woman in the village!”
Audience: “Oh no you’re not!”
Dame: “Oh yes I am!”
Audience: “Oh no you’re not!”

The argument can go back and forth for some time, so make sure your voice is in fine shape!

4. IT’S BEHIND YOU! No Panto is complete without the “It’s/he’s/she’s behind you!” moments. The audience is asked by one of the main characters to let them know if a ghost/spider/gorilla or anything else appears. Things can creep up on them without their knowledge and it’s up to you to warn them with a healthy yell of “IT’S BEHIND YOU!“

Don’t forget to “OOH” and “AHH” or throw the occasional WOLF WHISTLE in when the Dame appears, she’ll be ever so grateful!

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