Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Panto and why it matters

Performing now!
The panto is up and running at our theatre.  Sinbad set sail last week and by all accounts is a roaring success so far.  This is truly wonderful because the panto here is a proper panto.  No big name stars, but a group of hilariously talented craftsmen bringing their skills to our tiny stage and enchanting a whole new generation. They're having a pretty profound effect on the older generation as well.

Panto as we know it has some very old roots indeed.  Go back far enough and you're looking at the oldest of old midwinter festivals to stave off the dark.  Comedy to keep the black at bay - what could possibly be more important?  The cross-dressing topsy-turviness comes perhaps from the old days of the Boy Bishop and Saturnalia and the mixing of identities so the badness got confused and ran away.

Getting a bit closer in time, and a lot of the panto traditions have their bones in some of the greatest comic geniuses ever to grace a stage - Grimaldi, Dan Leno, Max Wall and their ilk. 

For a lot of British children, panto is their first brush with live theatre.  It was for me and I remember being taken when I was very young indeed.  The joy of it has stuck with me forever - the excitement and the fun and the stomach-churning fear that the baddie might win if we didn't shout loud enough.  In some ways, I don't think anything I've seen since has really matched that immersion. 

An oddly serious post about something that is all about light and fun and the goodies winning.  But it's nearly midwinter and sometimes we need to remember our roots.

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