Panto is one of our great theatrical traditions – oh yes it is!
Sunday 15 December 2013
It’s behind you!” If those words elicit a groan, then bah humbug to you. You may hate pantomime but I’m honing my heckles in preparation to see several shows around the country.
Those who dislike it describe panto as low art, whatever that may be, but in fact its roots go back to ancient Greek drama by way of commedia dell’arte and Georgian theatre. And while it would be foolish to claim that it’s ever on a par with Shakespeare, it shares some qualities with the Bard – its longevity, its nods to the audience (his groundlings certainly wouldn’t feel out of place at a panto) and its ability to be both up-to-the-minute and comfortingly traditional.
When done well, panto is pure joy. The art is in taking the stock elements, characters and set-ups, and marrying them to modern themes. The best scriptwriters, such as the prolific Eric Potts, York Theatre Royal’s Berwick Kaler and Hackney Empire’s Susie McKenna, create shows that are steeped in panto’s history but have superb jokes that reflect the locality and the year’s big stories. I expect to hear plenty of gags about The Great British Bake Off (and soggy bottoms) and Prince George (and, er, soggy bottoms) over the coming weeks.
Commercial pantos are often star vehicles and, while not always hugely successful, there’s still fun to be had. And for every Ann Widdicombe proving that she really can’t dance – I shall never forget her “sashaying” across the stage with Craig Revel Horwood in Snow White – there’s a lovely surprise. Who would have thought that two of the best Captain Hooks of recent years would be cheesy American TV stars? Yet both David Hasselhoff, currently taking on the role for the fourth consecutive year, and Henry Winkler, donning a curly wig for the fifth time, have been a blast.
I also have high hopes for two debutants this year: Gok Wan, in Snow White at Birmingham Hippodrome, and Jo Brand, in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon theatre. That’s because I suspect they know how to play panto, which is about appealing to all age groups; if you’re too knowing, the magic disappears. The trick is to slip in some filth (ooh-er missus) for the adults while making sure it goes over the children’s heads.
Call me an overgrown child, but I shall be booing and hissing enthusiastically over the next few weeks. Oh yes I will.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 2 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 3 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 4 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
- 5 We have six months to save the world, says leading economist
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9: 'The Dance of Dragons' sees Jon Snow return to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: 90 viewers complain to Ofcom about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing' dresses
Ed Sheeran debuts new song 'Sweet Mary Jane' about his love affair with weed
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers