The pantomime has its origin in the Roman Saturnalia midwinter feast when men played women and women played men. Panto comes from the Greek and means an actor who takes on all the roles. This is how it first started. The pantomime first came to Britain in the 18th century from the later tradition of the Italian commedia dell’arte or improvised theatre. The stories included clowns, jesters and a villain. The stories changed from fairy tales and stories of the Arabian knights to familiar stories used in pantomimes today. The old plays were often called ‘mummers plays’ where there was a moral to the story. In the 19th and 20th century the pantomime changed with the introduction of the music hall entertainers. Today well known actors and musicians or even television personalities often take part in the popular pantomimes in the UK. For example, Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas is taking part in Jack in the Beanstalk at Liverpool Empire this season and X factor winner Joe McElderry as well as Eastenders star Steve McFadden (who plays Phil Mitchell) are performing in Dick Whittington at the Mayflower Southampton.
Pantomimes have two main ingredients. Firstly men dress up as women and vice versa and secondly the audience participates in the play. A statement such as ‘he’s behind you’ is typical of what is heard in theatres across the country. Pantomimes are musicals and they are comedic. They used to be for adults but now are typically family fun. Pantomimes used to commence after Christmas on Boxing Day but now they often start earlier in December or even earlier.
Some of the most popular pantomimes across the UK this year are Aladdin, Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. They are held in nearly every county in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as on the island of Jersey and the Isle of Wight. Ones of note are Aladdin in Swindon, Peter Pan in Northampton, Peter Pan in Nottingham, Aladdin in Glasgow and Cinderella in Manchester. Many cities such as Bristol have up to four venues for the pantomime this year. In London there are more than 15 locations from the Hyde Park ice rink (Peter Pan on Ice) to the West End, Wimbledon, Islington and Catford. Plays of note are Robinson Crusoe at the Greenwich Theatre, Aladdin at Hackney Empire,A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic, Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, Stick Man at Leicester Square Theatre and Dick Whittington at Lyric Hammersmith.
Check on line for a pantomime near you to further enjoy the Christmas season the UK way!