While panto is huge in the UK and you probably already know plenty about it, there are people out there who have never been to a pantomime or may be discovering this tradition for the first time. Read on to get to grips with the basics of a good panto and prepare yourself when you book in for a show this Christmas.
Understanding the key panto traditions
There are some essentials that you will recognise in any pantomime you see up and down the country, they make the shows feel familiar and while you may notice certain tweaks, the format and frame remain the same.
1. Let the Dame guide you
The pantomime Dame, traditionally played by a man flamboyantly dressed as a female character and full of bold character, will lead you through the story. The Dame is often almost like a narrator character and will piece together the plot for the audience, popping up every scene or so with a lead-on to the next bit of action. A good Dame will pepper her plot with cheesy jokes, slapstick and plenty of opportunities for the audience to join in.
2. Expect boys in skirts and girls in breeches
Pantomime has a long and distinguished history of gender swapping roles and when it’s kept traditional, you’ll find your leading man is played by a woman and the key female characters are usually men. Historically, only men were allowed on stage, but as time has moved on, some roles have been handed over the girls.
3. Fairy tales gone wrong
Many of the classic pantomimes are fairy tale stories taken in a new and unusual direction. From Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin to Dick Whittington, all have their own version with a distinctly pantomime feel. Other children’s stories and characters such as Mother Goose or Robinson Crusoe have also been transformed into pantomime too.
4. Booing, hissing and cheering too
Audiences should expect to get involved and play their part in a good British panto. Audience participation is essential so expect to boo, hiss and cheer along (usually at the demand of the Dame or someone else on stage). When the baddie enters get those boos going and when the hero prevails, it’s time for a loud cheer.
5. Oh No It Isn’t (Oh Yes It Is!)
Keeping the audience participation going is the classic to-and-fro between the audience and those on stage, when the Dame shouts “Oh no it isn’t” the audience simply must reply “Oh yes, it is!” Expect it to go on for some time and expect the laughs to get even bigger as you shout louder, and the actors do too!
6. Look out for the Ghost Gag
The Ghost Gag is a key essential to your classic panto. It involves the Dame turning and scaring a ghostly or monstrous creature into retreat. It is coupled with another popular bit of audience participation as you all look to help the Dame out and shout out “It’s behind you” whenever the monster appears. Expect much confusion, hilarity and chasing up and down the stage.
7. Slapstick and Slosh
The clever writers behind pantomime are careful to write in plenty of opportunities for slapstick and physical comedy. Whether one character is bonking another over the head with a broom or they fall to the floor in an exaggerated fist fight, slapstick fun is at the heart of panto. It often occurs during the “messy” scene in the show, known to those in the business as the Slosh Scene. The Slosh Scene can get as messy as it sounds and can involve anything from custard pies flung in faces to water being hosed into the audience. Some pantos are sloshier than others so you may want to be prepared to see an awful lot of mess.
8. Sing-along to the Song Sheet
The Song Sheet phase of the show usually takes place in between the final scene in the show’s plot and the full finale of the show. It’s a long, musical number that allows the cast time to change into their final costumes and gives the audience plenty of time to enjoy and sing along with a range of songs from the show. Sometimes The Song Sheet scene involves younger audience members being brought up on stage and involved in the show. It’s all tied up with a massive sing-off, to see which side of the audience can sing louder.
Are you ready for your first panto?
Now you’ve got a better understanding of what goes into a great panto, are you ready to book and enjoy a show? It’s a fantastic experience, full of fun, and as they usually take place around Christmas or Easter, there’s that festive feel too.
We’re pretty sure as soon as you’ve seen one show, you’ll want to see another and when panto season arrives there is plenty to choose from.
Don't miss our Aladdin cast at Fairfield Halls, from Sat 16 Dec 2023 – Sun 7 Jan 2024.
Join our hero Aladdin, his mother Widow Twankey and his brother Wishee Washee as they embark on a magical adventure and try to defeat the evil Abanazar (Davood Ghadami, Eastenders, Holby City and the BBC’s Beyond Paradise) and his plan to become master of the world with help from the Genie of The Lamp and the Spirit Of The Ring.
Tickets from £16.50
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