Sunday, 25 January 2009

Panto? Oh yes it is!

This week has been very hectic as I've been front of house manager for our local drama group's pantomime, 'Sinbad'. This involves organising a team of helpers to take tickets, show people to their seats, answer general questions, make sure people are safe and find two first-aiders for each show. Since we had audiences of about 300 for each performance (Thursday, Friday, Saturday matinee and evening) there had to be four people available, apart from the box office, which is quite a lot of people to find over four shows.

In case any foreign readers aren't too clear about panto, here's a user's guide.

Pantomime is a British Christmas tradition, a show which is suitable for the whole family. The stories are usually taken from a small list of possibilities, Snow White, Aladdin, Mother Goose, Dick Whittington, Cinderalla and Robin Hood being probably the most favourite.

The cast lists for each are pretty prescriptive. First there is the principal boy (the prince or hero figure) who is always played by a young lady. Here is Sinbad, beautifully played by Becky. The fishnet tights, short costume and boots are a staple of principal boys throughout the land.
The principal girl is actually played by a girl, and in our show, Princess Jasmine was the lovely (but feisty) Ailish, here relaxing between scenes.

Then there is the dame. This is usually the principal boy's mother, and always played by a man. Here is Fatima Sinbad, played by my favourite dame, Dicky. The dame is not at all effeminate, but just a man in a dress (and fake boobs) and Dicky pulls this off effortlessly!

Every panto has its villain. Here is the evil sorceror Nastase, played by Russ. He was so scarey, that four small children had to be taken home in the matinee as they were so frightened of him!
To balance the moral scales, we have the forces of good, represented by Floribunda, played by Anne-Marie. (In case you're wondering, good always triumphs over evil in the end!)
Pantos are full of comedy, usually the silly slapstick kind and there are usually several comic characters whose speciality is to make the audience laugh. the two Lauras are playing slave girls who are always vying with each other to get get a man. Despite their youth, they had great comic timing.

They eventually ended up with the two silly fools, Mustapha and Hassan (or Colin and Keith) as panto is great for pairing people up in matrimony. The last scene is always a wedding scene. I hope Keith manages to get the blue makeup out of his moustache before work on Monday!

The foil to the dame was Ali, played by the veteran of silly fools, Andrew, looking particularly dashing here in his naval outfit.

The princess's mother was played most regally be Becky B.

and the visir (with another painted moustache) by Richard.
A special feature of panto is the requirement for audience participation. The villain expects to be booed and hissed at every appearance, there are lots of opportunities to shout 'Oh yes he is' or 'Oh no he isn't' in response to the characters, and always a scene when there is a ghost or monster behind one of the characters which the audience have to spot, and warn the character by shouting 'He's behind you!' Towards the end of the show there is always a sing song, where the audience join in a song (the words are provided on a board) which turns into a competition between the two halves of the auditorium, always ending in a draw.
I'm not sure whether my explanations have made it clearer or just sound completely ridiculous. Trust me, if you get the chance to go to a panto, go, and you'll have a great time!


Paula said...

I think it sounds like great fun! And... a lot of work. I'd never heard of this British Christmas tradition. Thanks for sharing.

Sew Create It - Jane said...

I think you did a fine job of explaining it...Either that or you've just told the world just how weird the Brits can be :o)

Christine Thresh said...

I didn't know about Pantos. They sound like such fun. I wish we had them here in the states.

anne bebbington said...

Pantomimes are just so quintessentially English - such fun!

black bear cabin said...

thank you for the rundown of the was totally fun to read the blog with the photos :) and what great doubt, you had a hand in making them! Sounds like a great time...and a great tradition...i bet the kids look forward to it every year :)
in the meantime, ive tagged you on my blog...feel free to participate if you have the time :)

Nancy said...

I had never heard of pantos, but wish we had them in the states. It sounds like great fun!