What is Pantomime?

Pantomime is as far as I know, a peculiarly British tradition and goes back at least 100 years. Pantomimes always take place at Christmas and nearly always have stories based around well known children's stories such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc.

They are very audience interactive. You certainly boo the villian, etc., but you should also have several arguments between characters and the audience.


Wicked queen in Snow White. "I am the fairest of them all"

Audience - "Oh no you're not!"

Queen - "Oh yes I am!"

Audience - "Oh no you're not!"

Another traditional one is the 'behind you' routine.

eg. in Sleeping Beauty. The bear sneaks up behind the nurse. Princess encourages audience to warn nurse, who of course does not believe them.

"It's behind you!"

"You're just having me on."

And so on until the nurse turns around and screams at the sight of the bear.

There's also a point in Sleeping Beauty where the audience are shouting "Kiss him" to the princess with regard to the frog.

A well trained panto audience will do this sort of thing quite spontaneously.

Other elements that are common in pantomime are slapstick - custard pies etc being thrown in people's faces, the principal boy being played by a very fetching girl in tights, and characters such as the ugly sisters being played OTT in drag with lots of commedy routines and hilarious costumes.

Some pantomimes are newly written, some have particular routines that date back a surprisingly long time.

In recent years there has been a bit of a tendency to cast big name soap stars in pantomimes. Some TV actors don't adapt well to a live audience. Panto requires particular skills. John Inman (Are you being served) is a long-time panto regular, doing (as you might expect) the drag characters, and is very good at it.

Scottish pantos seem to rely more on local talent (Gareth Thomas lives in Scotland). The flyer for Sleeping Beauty doesn't mention any of the cast by name, the panto itself is seen as the draw.

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Last updated on 18th of December 1997.