Pantomime~A British Tradition.

The panto is a theatrical tradition, performed annually before Christmas and through January. If you are British, the chances are you will have visited the pantomime on many occasions, probably both as a child and as an adult. It’s wide appeal crosses the ages. Towns and cities all across the UK will be performing their own particular performance of the popular fairy tales, customarily Aladdin, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk, to name but a few. Generally with much artistic licence and broad interpretation !

There has been much written about the meaning of pantomime. How to understand it. If you are British, it is so inherent a part of a culture, that we never question it. It needs no explaining. We just get it. Its just simply “panto”.

With it’s roots based firmly in the 1700’s, it is a wild mixture of drama, music, and vaudeville, salted with liberal doses of contemporary humour and innuendo. It truly does have something for everybody. Audience participation is actively encouraged, namely in the form of boos and hisses at the arch enemy, inviting children up onto the stage to take part, normally rewarding them with sweets, and the familiar yells of “It’s behind you!”  or “Oh yes it is/Oh no it isn’t!” in the well known actor/audience banter. There is always a pantomime dame. Namely a man in drag, who is both maternal but saucy, and a principal boy who plays the part of the hero or prince and who is always played by a girl. In addition we have the principal girl , generally a demure and kind character, who is also played by a girl. Think princess here. Confused yet? The cast sometimes includes a sidekick to get the audience on side, making the  pantomime a rowdy, theatrical extravaganza, incorporating singing, comedy, and lots of innuendo to amuse the adults. It is always a celebration of good over evil, culminating in a happy ending, typically in the form of the principal boy and girl getting married.

I still laugh at a story my parents tell me, of a time they took their young niece, fresh from the USA for a trip to the local pantomime. Cinderella’s wicked stepmother was calling to the audience ” Shall I let her go to the ball?”, while the audience was shouting out that she should. This went on for some minutes, before their american niece stood up in the crowded auditorium, and with the sheer exasperation of it all shouted out in her broad New York accent ” Ah for *****’s sake! Let her go to the goddamn ball!”

The cities all have celebrites on their star studded casts to draw the crowds, but even the smaller towns and villages will stage the customary panto. And it was one of these productions that I had great fun taking these pictures at. Always more enjoyable when somebody you know has a leading role too!

I’ve also included a black and white shot to try and break my addiction to colour….no mean feat when you’re shooting a bright and cheery panto!

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