Visitors to London over Christmas and the New Year will have the opportunity to experience a unique theatrical event. Traditionally performed at Christmas and created for family audiences, British pantomime is a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, topical references, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo.
The stories of contemporary modern pantomime are loosely based on a well-known fairy tales. Some of the favourites are Aladdin, Cinderella, Dicj Whittington and His Cat, Jack and the Beanstalk and Mother Goose.
The following conventions are normally observed:-
- The leading male juvenile character (the pricipal boy) is traditionally played by a young woman, usually in tight-fitting male garments (such as breeches) that make her female charms evident. Her romantic partner is the principal girl, a female ingenue.
- An older woman (the pantomime dame – often the hero’s mother) is played by a man in drag, who is usually a well known British comedian and whose presence acts as a draw for audience attendance.
- Risqué double entendre, often wringing intimation out of perfectly innocent phrases. This is, in theory, over the heads of the children in the audience and is for the entertainment of the adults.
- Audience participation, including calls of ‘He’s behind you.’ or ‘Look behind you’, and ‘Oh, yes it is’ and ‘Oh, no it isn’t’. The audience is always encouraged to hiss the villain and ‘ah’ the poor victims, such as the rejected dame, who is usually enamoured with the prince.
- There is often a pantomime horse or cow, played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.
Many theatres in London, especially smaller theatres in outskirts of the capital stage pantomimes every year. As an example, a delightful smaller theatre in Richmond (access by underground train on the District Line) is staging Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Jerry Hall in the role of the wicked queen. For some other suggestions go to www.bigpantoguide.co.uk and select London from the list on the left. Although there are many theatres listed, this may not be a complete list.
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