Pantomimes, these colourful and musical spectacles, have entertained audiences of all ages, especially during the festive season. Yet, how much do we truly know about these theatrical performances?
Let’s delve into the magical world of pantomime, exploring its origins, its connection with famous faces, and its fascinating traditions.
1. Pantomime: A Mosaic of Cultural Influences
Contrary to popular belief, pantomime isn’t purely British. Its roots trace back to the Romans and the Italian commedia dell’arte, a 16th-century form of street performance showcasing impromptu sketches with masked characters. These comedic improvisations were eventually adapted into mimes or Harlequinades in England, forming the foundation of today’s visually stunning and vocally engaging pantomimes.
2. Pantomimes: A Magnet for Celebrity Talent
The theatrical richness of pantomimes, brimming with engaging plotlines, singing, dancing, slapstick comedy, and audience participation, attracts many well-known actors. It’s not uncommon for big names, such as Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, and even David Hasselhoff, to grace the panto stage.
3. Global Love for Pantomime
Pantomimes aren’t confined to Britain. Countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa also enjoy these unique performances. Jamaica ingeniously combines traditional pantomime elements with their local “Anansi” folklore, central to Caribbean and West African storytelling. Even the United States has been increasingly embracing the concept of pantomime, seeking to replicate the successful British industry.
4. The Left-Right Tradition in Pantomime
In most pantomimes, the good character traditionally enters from stage right, and the villain emerges from stage left. This custom originates from the belief that the left signifies evil and the right represents all things good.
5. The Slapstick “Slosh Scene”
One of the well-loved traditions in pantomime is the “Slosh Scene”. This comedic moment involving sticky substances, liquid, or custard pies creates a hilarious spectacle, leaving one or more characters in a messy state.
6. The Silent Origins of Pantomime
Early pantomimes were silent, with performances primarily consisting of miming and dancing. It wasn’t until 1843, with Parliament’s Theatres Act lifting restrictions, that spoken performances were allowed, leading to the delightful wordplay, puns, and audience involvement we enjoy today.
7. The Evolution of Panto Dames
While the dame character is a pivotal part of pantomimes, men initially played the role, as women weren’t allowed on stage. Even after this rule was changed in 1660, the tradition of men performing in female roles continued, evolving into the beloved panto dames of today.
8. The Debut of the First Panto Dame
The first documented pantomime dame character appeared on stage in 1806 in the performance Harlequin and the Mother Goose. This role, played by Mr. Simmons, portrayed the character as a wicked old witch, reflecting pantomime’s connection with fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
9. Superstitions in Pantomime
Pantomime is steeped in various superstitions. For instance, during rehearsal, it is considered bad luck to utter the last lines of a panto’s finale, traditionally a pair of rhyming verses. These lines are only spoken for the first time on opening night.
10. Widow Twankey: Named After a Tea!
An intriguing fact about pantomime is the origin of the character name “Widow Twankey” from Aladdin. This name is derived from a cheap Chinese green tea known as “Twankey Tea“, indicating that the character, like the tea, is past her prime.
11. Pantomimes and Costume Making
It’s worth noting that pantomimes showcase a dazzling array of costumes. From the panto dame’s elaborate attire to the fairy characters’ shimmering dresses, each costume contributes to the enchanting world of pantomime. These costumes are a testament to costume makers‘ creativity, skill, and dedication, who bring the characters to life with their intricate designs.
12. Pantomime: A Time-Honoured Tradition
Despite its evolving nature and the changing trends in the theatre industry, pantomime continues to be a cherished tradition. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of this art form, which combines storytelling, music, comedy, and the magic of theatrical performance, creating unforgettable experiences for audiences.
The world of pantomime is a fascinating realm full of surprises, traditions, and a rich history. From its diverse historical roots to its influence on global theatre culture, pantomime continues to be a captivating spectacle that brings joy and laughter to audiences worldwide.