Saturday, December 31, 2011

Time for the Panto

Take a well loved fairy tale, add in some funky song and dance numbers, some television personalities, and a "dame" in drag and what have you got?  A classic form of British family entertainment:  The Panto!

Months ago fellow expats raved about the Panto so I snapped up tickets to Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal in Windsor as soon as they went on sale.

The Panto has been a Christmas time tradition in England since the middle ages and it's still hugely popular today.  Pantos are everywhere this time of year- from small community playhouses to West End theatres.  All pantos share some basic elements:

The Plot:  Pantos are based on a well known fairy tale or folk tale.  Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Aladdin, are all popular pantos.  As I mentioned, we saw Sleeping Beauty.

The Principal Characters:  The cast is made up of a principal girl, a principal boy (often played by a girl), the dame (played by a man in drag),  some "goodies" and some evil "baddies", and an animal (either real or costumed actors).  Our cast featured some pop icons from the 1960s, a former Bond Girl as the evil fairy, the third place runner up from the UK television show "Dancing on Ice", a semi-finalist from Britain's got Talent, and a chiwawa in a tutu.  There was even an appearance by the cartoon character Noddy.  As you can see, we're talking big name talent here.

Audience Participation:  Although it seems to me to be very un-British, the audience is encouraged to cheer, boo, hiss, yell, and interact with the performers.  The actors even talk directly to the audience and encourage them to participate.  It is all great fun.  We even had the chance to throw foam snowballs at the actors and catch some sweeties they threw at us.

The Action :  The panto is full of slapstick comedy, wild song and dance mash-ups, witty, relevant comments, and crazy costume changes.  My favorite bit was the dance number that was part Beyonce, part Lady gaga, and part ABBA.  Hilarious!  The lively rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas (with such endearing gifts as watering cans, wellies, and a "bra that could only hold 3") also had us all laughing out loud.  Some of the jokes were obviously aimed at the grown ups in the audience, but there was plenty of goofy kid stuff to keep our 5 and 8 year olds completely enthralled.

You know it was a good show when everyone is buzzing about it as they exit the theatre.  My sweet daughter giggled as she looked in the program and discovered that the Nurse (dame) was actually played by a "man in a frock."  We all laughed as we recalled our favourite scenes and characters.  It really was a fabulous fun day out for the whole family and the best British tradition we've experienced so far.  (Which is to say I liked it more than mince pies).

Happy New Year!


  1. The local community center is holding a Panto - Cinderella - in two weeks. It's so funny that you posted on this because I'd never heard of a Panto but brought the flyer home intending to go. Now I will definitely be there. Sounds like a blast!

  2. Great Scott- Hope you all enjoy it as much as we did!


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