Wyvern Players are proud and honoured to present traditional British pantomime on an annual basis but we are not the first to indulge in this wild behaviour. The Alberta St George of England Society presented pantomime in Edmonton for over 30 years and we were formed by and from people involved with that Society who felt that this quirky and unique genre should be seen by more than just nostalgic ex-pats.
BUT – what is pantomime?
British pantomime, informally known as panto, is traditionally performed at Christmas time and is a popular form of family friendly theatre incorporating song, dance, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation and some mild sexual innuendo.
The style and content of modern pantomime have very clear and strong links with a form of theatre that arose in Italy and which reached England by the 16th century. There are also roots, no doubt, in mummers plays which date back to medieval times. These typically involve St George, a dragon and/or a Saracen, a fight and a doctor with an amazing potion to revive the slain.
Panto story lines and scripts typically make no reference to Christmas and are mostly based on traditional children’s stories. Some of the older stories have been around for over 300 years, it is believed the first pantomime was produced in England in 1711. The first that could be termed modern pantomime, Mother Goose, first saw the light of day in 1806 on 29th December at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Of course the story of a golden egg goes back a lot further than that and was recorded in ancient Greece.
The gender role reversal (cross-dressing) resembles the old festival of Twelfth Night—a combination of Epiphany and a midwinter feast, when it was customary for the natural order of things to be reversed.
Some conventions that have changed little over the years but are by no means mandatory are -
The leading male character (principal boy) is traditionally played by a young woman;
An older woman, known as pantomime dame, often the hero's mother, is usually played by a man;
The audience is encouraged to boo the villain and get involved with calls of “He’s behind you!”, “Oh yes it is” and “Oh no it isn’t” so if the person beside you is insulting the character on the stage then it is probably okay to join in, especially if they have a British accent!
If you have never been ”to the panto” then you must change that next January ...... Oh yes you must ..... OH YES YOU MUST
Pantomime - what is it?