24 November 2009

Don't look behind you--It's Panto Season!

Oh, no it isn't!
Oh, Yes it is!

In the United Kingdom, the word "Pantomime" means a form of entertainment, generally performed during the Christmas season. Most cities and towns throughout the UK have a form of Pantomime at this time of year. The origins of British Pantomime or "Panto" as it is known date back to the middle ages, taking on board the traditions of the Italian "Commedia dell’ Arte, the Italian night scenes and British Music hall to produce an intrinsic art form that constantly adapted to survive up to the present day.

It has nothing to do with mimes. Pantomime incorporates song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo. There are a number of traditional story-lines, and there is also a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions (e.g. gender role reversal: 'principal boy' is played by a young woman). There is a 'guest celebrity' tradition, which emerged in the late 19th century. The gender role reversal resembles the old festival of Twelfth Night, a combination of Epiphany and midwinter feast, when it was customary for the natural order of things to be reversed. This tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian European festivals such as Samhain and Saturnalia.

Pantomime has been attempted abroad, usually with a small amount of success. Not surprisingly it has proved popular in countries such as Canada, Australia and South Africa- recently a production of "Babes in the wood" ran at the Rainbow Seven Arts Theatre in Harare, Zimbabwe! In America this very British art form has fared less favourably, although a production of "Humpty Dumpty" in 1868 ran for over 1,200 performances at the Olympic Theatre, New York, making it the most successful Pantomime in American history.

Well, we have tickets to Snow White this year.

John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and Torchwood) has been doing Panto for a while. This year he will play the role of Robin Hood at the New Theatre in Cardiff. He's also played Prince Charming in Cinderella (2005), Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk (2006), and Aladdin in (2007). I'd love to see him doing Panto, but imagine getting tickets is nigh impossible (well, not really as there are some seats available as of 24 Nov 09). Not to mention, he usually plays in places that are out of the way for us.

The Beeb has a gallery of Panto Stars.

My guess is that it is a bit too outrageous for puritanical US tastes with the cross dressing, innuendo, and so on. Although, I've heard that the US is rediscovering this tradition.

There's still hope yet!