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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other uses, see Pantomime (disambiguation).
The Christmas Pantomime colour lithograph bookcover, 1890
The Christmas Pantomime colour lithograph bookcover, 1890

In Great Britain, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland pantomime (informally, panto) refers to a theatrical genre, usually performed around the Christmas and New Year holiday season.
















The performance of pantomime originates at its earliest in ancient Greece, but exploded in popularity during the reign of Augustus in ancient Rome. The style and content of modern pantomime has very clear and strong links with the Commedia dell'arte, a form of popular theatre that arose in Italy, in the early middle ages, and which reached England by the 16th 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.

In Restoration England, a pantomime was considered a low form of opera, rather like the Commedia dell'arte but without Harlequin (rather like the French Vaudeville). In 1717, John Rich introduced Harlequin to the British stage under the name of "Lun" (for "lunatic") and began performing wildly popular pantomimes. These pantomimes gradually became more topical and comic, often involving as many special theatrical effects as possible. Colley Cibber and his colleagues competed with Rich and produced their own pantomimes, and pantomime was a substantial (if decried) subgenre in Augustan drama. This form had virtually died out by the end of the 19th century.

varnell Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences consisting mainly of children and parents, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, in-jokes, audience participation and mild sexual innuendo (but to the innocent everything is pure). Plots are often loosely based on traditional children's stories, the most popular titles being:

  • Aladdin (sometimes combined with Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves)
  • Babes in the Wood (often combined with Robin Hood)
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Cinderella, the most popular of all pantomimes and first shown in 1870 in Covent Garden, London
  • Dick Whittington, first staged as a pantomime in 1814 based on a seventeenth century play.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Mother Goose
  • Peter Pan
  • Puss in Boots
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Snow White

The form has a number of conventions.

  • The leading male character (the "principal boy") is usually played by a young woman (although this tradition appears to be dying out).
  • An older woman (the pantomime dame) is usually played by a man in drag.
  • Risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases.
  • Audience participation, including calls of "look behund you!" (or "he's behind you!"), and "oh yes it is!" or "oh no it isn't!" The audience is always encouraged to "boo" the villain.
  • A song combining a well-known tune with re-written lyrics. The audience is encouraged to sing the song; often one half of the audience is challenged to sing "their" chorus louder than the other half.
  • The pantomime horse or cow, played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.
  • The good fairy always enters from the right side of the stage and the evil villain enters from the left. In Commedia Dell 'Arte the right side of the stage symbolized Heaven and the left side symbolized Hell.

Another contemporary pantomime tradition is the celebrity guest star, a practice that dates back to the late 19th century, when Augustus Harris, proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, hired well-known variety artistes for his pantomimes. Occasionally a pantomime pulls off a coup by engaging a guest star with an unquestionable thespian reputation, as with the Christmas 2004 production of Aladdin that featured Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey, which he reprised in the 2005 production at the Old Vic theatre in London. As well as being an actor in the Shakespearean tradition, McKellen had become hugely famous with children as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men. "At least we can tell our grandchildren that we saw McKellen's Twankey and it was huge," said Michael Billington, theatre critic of The Guardian, December 20, 2004, entering into the pantomime spirit. However in modern times, the value of these celebrities in provincial pantomime, either as actors or attractions, is sometimes questionable with erstwhile soap stars, comedians or sportsmen reviving a declining public career.

One of the most popular and critically acclaimed (not to mention commercially successful) pantomimes in recent years has been the one at the York Theatre Royal. It features no guest celebrities, but rather a regular cast headed by Berwick Kaler, who has played the dame there for 27 years and has built up a devoted fan-base. Kaler has been credited with reviving a dying tradition. Tickets go on sale April 1; in 2005 the first buyer turned up at 3am. Well before the opening they had sold 30,000 of the 50,000 seats, something that many celebrity-centred pantomimes could only dream of. He was interviewed by The Independent newspaper in 2004 for an article marking his 25th season:

"The panto," Kaler says, "has been said to be dying for years. Well, some of them deserve to die." These are the ones that flout tradition by casting a young man as principal boy, or by diminishing the role of the dame, sometimes writing her out altogether. Having cast clapped-out TV stars to draw the audiences, these pseudo-pantos "make no further effort. They just don't try. I dive into a tank of water every year. Who wants to do that?" [1]

In other non English countries though, pantomime is equivalent to the English mime and is open to a wider range of topics and characters than English pantomime. Famous European mime artists like Etienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau or modern Pantomime Damir Dantes took the technical aspect of this ancient art to the highest levels of physical expression requiring long years of practice and enormous body control for this art of creating multi dimensional illusions without any props on stage.

Pantomime in Australia

Pantomimes in Australia at Christmas have also always been very popular, and professional productions often feature celebrities. During the 1950s, a Christmas Cinderella pantomime in Sydney featured Danny Kaye as Buttons. There are also radio pantomimes at Christmas which are featured on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Pantomime in Canada

Pantomimes in Canada seem to be making a comeback.

The Millennium Players in Maple Ridge, British Columbia offer a yearly traditional Christmas pantomime in December at The ACT Theatre.

In Fall 2006, Broadway Across Canada presented the Ross Petty Production of Aladdin in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Ottawa starring Bret The Hitman Hart as the genie, from a Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning script written by David Finley.

The Kingston Meistersingers presented an original pantomime production of Cinderella, written by Richard Linley, at l'Octave Theatre in Kingston, Ontario, in late November 2006.

Peel Pantomime Players Canada's oldest continually operating pantomime group, celebrating its 36th year in 2006, brought Norman Robbins Rumpelstiltzkin to the stage at the Lester B. Pearson Theatre in Brampton, Ontario, in late November and early December 2006.

SMP Dramatic Society [2] in North Vancouver, BC presents a pantomime every January for more than 10 years now, with its most recent production being Robin Hood and the Singing Nun written by Stuart Ardern scheduled for mid-January 2007

Pantomime in the United States of America

In the United States, pantomime is more commonly understood to refer to the art of mime, as practised by mime artist, such as Marcel Marceau. Due to this, it is less common and many people recognize miming more commonly as a performance on the street to earn money in a hat, rather than a theatrical performance.

The Kennett Amateur Theatrical Society presents a pantomime every January [3].

The Shoestring Shakespeare Company, a troupe based in San Antonio, Texas, puts on a pantomime every year.

The Eastern Michigan University Theater Department began producing a Christmas pantomime in 2005 with Pinocchio and then revived the tradition this year with a version on Treasure Island.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz has presented several pantomimes during its winter season including Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Gretel and Hansel, and the 2006 world premiere of Sleeping Beauty by Kate Hawley, directed by SSC artistic director Paul Whitworth. [4]

In New York City, Pantomonium Productions presents holiday Pantomimes annually. As a non-profit organization, the company brings children and families together with a diverse cast of arts professionals and volunteers to create a uniquely American interpretation of this British tradition. Each summer, children from underserved populations collaborate with professional teachers and composers to write words and music that become part of the annual production, and approximately 60% of tickets are donated to disadvantaged children and families through partnerships with social service organizations. [5]

External links

  • The origins of pantomime stories
  • The Magic of Pantomime
  • Write a Brilliant Pantomime
  • Broadway Across Canada
  • Pantomime In the 1940s & 1950s
  • Pantomime economics of fifty years ago
  • Pantomime Concepts & Workshops
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