BWW Blog: Why We Shouldn't Be Snobby About Panto
Like many, pantomime was my first introduction to theatre. Johnny Beattie at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr was an institution. I still remember the pun-tastic names of the ugly sisters in Cinderella that I saw when I was five (Naomi Campbell-Soup and Claudia Schiffer-Pen), and the sheer elation of catching a fun-size Milky Way. Panto was pure magic.
Don't get me wrong - pantomime (like theatre) can be dire. Producers can assume that parents will throw money at anything that looks remotely festive during the month of December and audiences can be lured in with promise of somebody 'off the telly'. At its worst, it is a generic script peddled up and down the country with local jokes copied and pasted in. At its best, it can be fresh, innovative theatre that brings joy to both children and adults.
Personally, I'm not keen on the huge production pantomimes with special effects, video screens and 3D glasses (except, of course if John Barrowman is involved). While these shows are undoubtedly a spectacle, I find that it is sometimes at the expense of any kind of half-decent script.
For fans of musical theatre, it's often likely that performers you know and love will be popping up all over the country. The likes of Keith Jack, Hayley Tamaddon, Ray Quinn, Jai McDowall, John Partridge, Natasha Barnes and Elaine C Smith are just a few names that have booked up for the festive season.
While it's typical to find more chart hits than original songs, they are often delivered with the same calibre you would find in any West End show. For many performers, pantomimes can also be their first professional production and provide valuable experience.
I'm also a huge fan of casting comedians in pantomime. Last year I caught Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyric Hammersmith, which had Vikki Stone as its villain, Fleshcreep. Stone has been a favourite of mine at the Edinburgh Fringe for a long time, and her quick wit was what made this particular production for me.
Having seen many a panto where somebody from a reality TV show is thrown into an ill-fitting wig in front of an audience, I can appreciate the value of having a performer who is actually skilled in improv ready to step in if something goes wrong - or even just to have a bit of fun with the script.
Pantomime is (usually) more accessible theatre. Although some of the bigger productions charge a small fortune, there are usually cheaper options in town halls and churches, large discounts for school groups and family ticket deals. Some theatres also operate a Pay It Forward system where donations from the previous year enable heavily discounted or free tickets for local children.
The much harped on about 'theatre etiquette' doesn't apply the same way, as audiences are often encouraged to sing along, and mid-show munchies are almost essential. Many productions also offer relaxed performances, where light and sound will be adjusted to make the performance more enjoyable for anyone with sensory issues.
So yes, you can scoff all you like at pantomime and declare that it isn't 'proper' theatre, but in my humble opinion - you're missing out!
Do you have special memories of attending or performing in pantomimes? Tweet us @BroadwayWorldUK and let us know!
Photo credit: John Johnstone