Pantomime, Now, Then and in Theatre of the Future

Buying your Pantomime tickets has become as important in the Christmas ritual as buying your pigs in their blankets to have on the big day. Yet these types of performances are surrounded by the stigma of being for children and silly. Having snuck a peek at Prince Charming’s unwrapped package at Kneehigh’s Pantomime rendition of Cinderella, as he sneaks bare-bottomed out of the staged bath and also the delicately placed cries at the motorised pussy-cat tells me that if done well, this can be as enjoyable for adults.

The origins of Pantomime lie in the old Christmas Mummers Plays, presented by all male casts in the great halls of manor houses. Every play had a moral, with the polarised extremes of good and evil, with the former always reining victorious. It was caste as a form of Vulgar opera and has retained its characteristics as a mongrel art form, with the inclusion of music, drama and other types of performance. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is the quintessential pantomime piece, with music, cross-dressing, lots of dramatic irony and Christmas mirth. Its enduring popularity suggests how well Pantomime is received, and indeed the  oldest forms of Pantomime are repeatedly revived. Cinderella, which has been particularly popular in this Year’s Pantomime renditions was first cited as Pantomime in 1870.

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The main feature of a Pantomime is audience participation. The heavily quoted ‘he’s behind you’ is a perfect example, where the audience play an integral part in helping the hero of the piece. There is also often a requirements to sing, dance and generally play along with the magic. Curiously immersive and participatory theatre has become the 2012 buzz word in theatre: every theatre is trying to exhibit more immersive worlds. This is partly to combat the attack of new media outlets and instant messaging which seek to muscle in on Theatres territory of having integrated the audiences. This is no longer their right by default, physical closeness no longer cuts it, and with the Arts funds failing, theatres are going to have to work hard to exert their place on the cultural psyche, by activating their audiences. In 2013 expect this on an even bigger scale- Pantomic frenzy of the theatre world.

Although traditionally Pantomimes started on boxing day and continure for two or three months into the new year the modern trend is to start early and finish early, following the general trend of christmas, with Adverts starting as early as October. Yet there are some still going on through January, so why not try and get a ticket for a local show. The Big Pantomime Website has a comprehensive list of shows: http://www.bigpantoguide.co.uk/.  So go on, get involved and support the movement of theatre.

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