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Christmas is approaching, and with that comes Pantomime season - that peculiar art form that dominates British theatres over the New Year and has children crying with laughter. For our international readers, a word of explanation is probably required! 'Pantomime' harp back to ancient Greece, 'panto' meaning 'all' and 'mime' from mimic; in ancient times it was a low form of theatre, almost a review that satirised traditional theatre. In Victorian England it became a popular form of entertainment with traditional stories told with comedy, satire, song, dance and much merriment!
Panto is full of tradition: there is a 'principle boy' played by a female star (Robin Hood, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Dick Whittington etc); there's an old dame or 'baddie' played by a man in drag (Cinderella's stepmother, the wolf in Red Riding Hood or the evil witches in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty). There are funny songs set to well known tunes, often updated to include parodies on current events and aimed at the adults (no doubt MP's expenses and bankers bonuses will feature this season!) and there's lots of audience participation. Most panto's even throw in the pantomime horse with obligitary jokes about who's at the head and who's at the back end! Yes, panto is a riot! Until recently local pantomime's wowed their audiences with B, C and D-list celebrtities, but even A-list celebs are in on the act now, ever since Kevin Spacey hosted panto at the Old Vic, starring leading thespian Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey in 2005.
Pantomime is good old fashioned family fun, and you'll see children from as young as two in the audience. Is it appropriate for your children? There's less pressure than traditional theatre for children to have to sit still for the duration, the themes are suitable for young children. Beware that young children may be scared by some of the bad characters, and there may be pyrotechnics involved. Check with your theatre's box office as to what they deem to be a suitable age to attend. Certainly by three and four years old, children are able to get into the swing and enjoy a fun afternoon or night out!