He’s behind you. Oh no he isn’t! Oh yes he is!
Pantomime is as much part of British culture as fish and chips, the Queen and drinking tea. Pantomime actually has it roots as far back as the late 1600s, when slapstick and comedy characters made their way into plays, but it really took off in the Victorian era. This is when it became firmly established as a Christmas tradition. Famous names started to appear from the 1930s and 1940s with a whole wealth of celebrities from all walks of life treading the boards.
With pantomime having existed for so long, and many of the main stories coming from age old fairy tales and myths, is it still a draw for families today? It’s certainly a world away from our binge-watching, instant gratification, social media society, so has panto had it’s day? (Oh no it hasn’t!)
I was lucky enough to interview two of the stars of my upcoming local panto this year to see what they thought.
Naomi Wilkinson is playing Cinderella, and is known to millions for presenting on CBBC, Milkshake! and BBC.
What appeals to you about panto?
I went to panto as a child and have so many happy memories of it. It’s such an exciting time at Christmas with such a lovely vibe, and pantomime is something that all the family can come along to watch.
There’s something for everyone with panto and everyone knows just what to say.
How has pantomime changed since you first started performing?
The scripts are always being updated so that there’s something new every year, but still keeping the magic of the original fairy tales. Pantomime has definitely changed since I started, so it works with the modern day. There’s still a theme around happy endings though – rooting for the good guy to win and the bad guy to lose.
And is the female lead role different now?
The role is updated too, in response to social media and world events. There’s a lot more feistiness and comedy about the roles now, but still keeping the desirable characteristics like compassion and kindness. You can read more about what Naomi thinks in my post asking ‘Are Princesses Good Role Models?’
Mark Jones plays Cinderella’s affable bestie Buttons, and is a seasoned comedy performer up and down the UK.
Why is panto still a popular option for families?
For many families, pantomime is their first experience of live theatre and for some children, visiting the panto with their school may be their only experience. I was lucky enough to go to panto as a child with my uncle buying us tickets.
There’s something in panto for everyone, which you don’t get very often these days.
As a performer, how do you make panto relevant for modern audiences?
We combine the popular traditional elements with modern songs that children will recognise. Telling a good story is really important; it’s not just about stringing together a load of comedy sketches. We do include topical references though.
How do you think panto has changed over the years?
There are lots of topics that we aren’t used as jokes any more, like the nationality and race jokes you would have seen in the 60s and 70s. We make the whole show as family friendly as possible, so that everyone can enjoy it.
Pantomime can also raise some interesting questions, for example around the cross dressing and gender swaps that are the mainstay of panto. In fact I’ve had great conversations with my own children after they’ve seen me perform.
You can catch Naomi Wilkinson and Mark Jones, along with Ian Waite and Mark Read in Cinderella at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre during November and December.