Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild innuendo. There are a number of traditional story lines, and also a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions (more on this shortly).
The pantomime first arrived in England as minor acts between opera pieces, eventually evolving into separate shows. In Restoration England, a pantomime was considered a low form of opera, in fact.
According to some sources, the Lincoln’s Inn Field Theatre and the Drury Lane Theatre were the first to stage something like real pantomimes (in the contemporary sense), and competition to create more and more elaborate shows quickly followed.
Early in 1723 the managers of Drury Lane produced a pantomime entitled Harlequin Doctor Faustus, which, constructed on a much more elaborate scale than those hitherto given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, may be considered the first English pantomime.
Pantomime Traditions and Conventions
Panto story lines and scripts typically make no reference to Christmas, and are almost always based on traditional children’s stories, including several written or popularized by the French pioneer of the fairy tale genre, Charles Perrault, as well as others based on the English tales collected by Joseph Jacobs. Plot lines are often adapted for comic or satirical effect, and certain familiar scenes tend to recur, regardless of plot relevance. Straight re-tellings of the original stories are rare in the extreme.
The prince or leading male role is traditionally played by a young woman – the “principal boy” part – and the older woman or “pantomime dame” by a man in drag. The humour is aimed at both adult and child audiences, with innuendos for the adults that won’t be picked up by the children, and some humour for the children that just might go over the adult’s heads too!
Audience participation with the children occurs throughout the show, as they are encouraged to “boo” the villain and “cheer” the hero.
5The BRITISH PLAYER’S productions of pantomime follow the format and traditions outlined above, and are always a wonderfully enjoyable experience for children and adults both. Our shows offer something unique – something that local audiences won’t find with any other theatre group in the area.