Oh no it isn’t … oh yes it is! The festive fascinating history of Pantomime
Think of the Christmas holiday season and there’s always certain family traditions that you immediately think about. Enjoying delicious festive treats .. mince pies and chocolate coins, playing ancient board games from the loft, untangling the fairy lights and wrestling with unruly tinsel for the tree … oh and PANTO!
Our love of pantomime seems ingrained in Great British Christmas Tradition, with its familiar sing-along show tunes, bright costumes and slapstick seaside humour. A visit to the theatre for the local pantomime is a popular must-have on the long list of family festive activities. After all its panto that gives many children their first magical encounter with live theatre. There is something very special about being part of the audience.
In our special seasonal blog post we delve into the rich history of pantomime to bring you some fun and fascinating facts behind the art form. Plus for all those budding theatre stars, we explore the benefits of getting the kids involved in dance and drama activities after school (oh yes we are!)
Did you know
Pantomime as an art form can be traced back to the 1600s!
The three most popular titles for Pantos in the UK are Cinderella, Aladdin and Dick Whittington (2)
Tradition states that the Pantomime villain should be the first actor to enter from the ‘dark side’ (stage left) followed by the hero/heroine from stage right. This echoes the tradition from medieval times when the entrances to ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ were placed on these particular sides (2)
The History of Pantomime
‘Once Upon A Time…’ The Opening Scene
Pantos that we all know and love were originally developed back in streets of 16th Century Italy. Born from the traditional Italian street theatre of the Commedia dell’arte, plays often featured comedy moments, familiar characters and a great deal of physicality. Sound familiar? The Commedia dell’arte told tales of the old man ‘Pantalone’, the clown ‘Pierrot’ and the girl ‘Columbine’ who was in love with ‘Arlecchino’ the servant.
Small companies of actors would tour around Italy and France, performing in market places and fairgrounds, sharing this classic and famous story. From the late 1600s these unique characters started to appear in English plays. First introduced by theatre impresario John Rich, these roles were eventually developed further as Rich’s plays become early forms of pantomime that we recognise today. John Rich’s stories told of love and magic and featured chases, acrobatics and slapstick.
Over the years panto as a genre in the UK grew and flourished. In the late 1700s actor Joseph Grimaldi took his pantomime characters to a completely different level, with the inclusion of more elaborate stage sets.
A very Victorian Christmas
It was during the Victorian era where Pantomime became part of Christmas tradition. Families would enjoy leisure time and escapism at the theatre. In a fairy-tale world, where the principal boy - often played by a woman, offered Victorian gents the rare opportunity to view a well turned ankle! With more impressive costumes, stage sets and illusion and scripts.
In the 1870s at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, the father of modern Panto Mr Augustus Harris gave rise to lavish productions and set up original competition between theatres across the country (1). Harris introduced the first stars of the popular Music Hall into his productions.
Where stars and other celebrities of the time would regularly cross over from the variety stage to the annual festive pantomime, bringing with them topical comedy and familiar songs.
Having popular celebrities appear in a regional pantomime is a tradition that still continues today. With theatres across the land attracting big stars from stage, screen, tv and the sporting world.
So what makes a popular panto?
What is the magic recipe for true panto success…
Audience participation is definitely required, the audience are encouraged to speak out, get involved and boo the villain and cheer on the hero/heroine.
Custard Pies at the ready!
There’s plenty of slapstick comedy - cue custard pies in the face, silly costumes, and plenty of falling over and fake water or snow.
Fun for all the family
Pantomimes are predominantly aimed at children and families, the show is usually based on a popular fairy tale or folk legend.
Pantomime Diva Dames
One of the most popular panto character is the dame, who is usually the hero’s mother (Widow Twankey in Aladdin). This character came from the early Music Halls of the Victorian era. No traditional pantomime dame is complete without some amazing elaborate costumes and of course quick and clever double entendre.
It’s behind you …
We all know the classic catchphrases, but in case you’re rusty and need reminding, the standard Panto sayings are: ‘Oh no it isn’t - oh yet it is!’ and ‘it’s behind you’.
How to get your child involved in the love of theatre
If your child wants to tread the boards and get into the world of acting, you might want to consider signing them up for either dance or drama activities after school. But what are the benefits of each activity? We’re on hand to give you some top insights on each one.
Keep Dancing - The Benefits
Step it Out!
Dance is great exercise, perfect for getting your kids moving, and increasing their stamina/muscle tone. It is also brilliant for developing co-ordination offering elements of grace and balance and control of the body. This ultimately contributes towards improving posture, flexibility and agility.
I’m in the mood for dancing...
Taking part in a dance class helps children with their musicality as it teaches them how the rhythm of the music and movement work together. Developing this love for music and movement will allow children to express themselves creatively through dance.
1,2,3 … 1,2,3 ...
Learning a dance routine encourages children to focus and therefore develops skills around discipline and dedication. It encourages children to keep practising a move or a series of steps until they get it right.
Lights, Camera, Action - The Benefits of Drama
Drama classes help to develop your child’s imagination through improvisation techniques.
Getting involved in acting allows kids space to express themselves creatively. Allowing them to let off steam through this ‘freedom of expression’ is great way for releasing stress outside of the classroom.
All about the confidence
Drama lessons help towards developing children’s confidence and communication skills. These key communication skills will serve a child throughout their entire life. Benefiting them right through in their personal life, from school to work and ultimately building a career. Confidence building of course also helps towards raising a child’s self esteem, which is another positive attribute for their future.
If reading this blog has whet your appetite for seeing a Pantomime this Christmas. Here’s a selection of the top local Pantos taking place this festive season.
Alice in Winterland at the Rose Theatre, Kingston
Featuring professional actors alongside members of the Rose Youth Theatre, the Rose Theatre, Kingston proudly features Alice in Winterland. A dazzling new stage production based on the Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This enchanting show runs from Thursday 7th December until Sunday 7th January
Aladdin at Richmond Theatre
Starring pantomime-legend Christopher Biggins, Aladdin is a high-flying adventure the whole family will love. Packed full of spectacular family entertainment, this production features all the ingredients of the perfect Panto; a wonderful cast and orchestra, comedy, stunning scenery and special effects and of course magnificent costumes. Aladdin runs from Saturday 9th December - Sunday 14th January
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