When hubby told me we were going to the theater to see a Pantomime , I thought ‘how strange … a play done silently, without words, just using gestures and expressions’. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In England, a Pantomime is anything but a silent, wordless production. It is a bawdy, slapstick, over-the-top extravaganza geared to children, with most of the jokes just beyond the children’s grasp.
Pantomimes are traditionally children’s fairy tales, performed around Christmastime in small towns and large cities all over the U.K., for the whole family to enjoy. Although they can be traced back to the middle ages, they really became popular in the 1700s in the theatres in Drury Lane. The plot is the same … young love between an innocent, pretty girl and a handsome princely boy, a good queen, or a bad queen and a good or bad demon king, a maternal drag character in outlandish costumes, a clownish physical comedian, children characters, and a chorus of singers and dancers. This all takes place, of course, in a ‘land far, far away‘.
The comedy is typical English … bawdy, slapstick and silly. The musical numbers are always outlandish and geared to the local audience. And, of course, audience participation is a very important part. Where else can you “boo” the villain as he or she comes out on stage or shout out to the actors “look out he’s behind you” or “oh, no, you didn’t”. Should you sit in the first few rows of the theater, be prepared to become part of the show. At our production, the children loved the marshmallows being shot out into the audience, the water pistols, and rolls of toilet paper heading their way. Where else can you find good, clean, slapstick fun today?
Our “Pantomime” was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs … no, not Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful, Dopey or Doc, with which you might be familiar, but rather The Magnificent Seven. These seven actors were creatively costumed in black cloaks which hid the fact that they were traversing around the stage on their knees. “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go“ was replaced by the more topical “you lift us up”. Yes, Snow White fell victim to eating the poisoned apple, only to be awakened by her one true love, Prince Charming. But it was the evil queen who stole the show as she flew over the audience on a Pterodactyl.
We saw many other Pantos advertised during our travels in England this past week, from Jack and the Beanstock to Cinderella, Aladdin, and Sleeping Beauty. Pantomime is a thriving business in the UK. during the holidays, with large theaters competing to attract “star” names which, hopefully, will attract a sell-out audience. And now I understand why. These productions are a family tradition and children will remember them forever!
Should you ever get the chance to go to a “pantomime” don’t confuse it as I did. It’s not a silent, gesture-filled production, it’s a bawdy, comedic, over-the-top, musical fairy tale! And, please, don’t hesitate to go!!