News Column

Enjoying a Christmas classic

November 6, 2013


We love a good panto in this country. Brits have been flocking to pantomimes at Christmas time for several hundred years, but the origins of panto actually date back much further to the Middle Ages.

But pantomimes as we know and love them have been around in some form since the 1700s.

Surveys have shown that as many as seven out of 10 Brits go to the panto at Christmas time, with around a third saying it's an essential part of their festive activities. So what's the secret behind their longevity? The nut and bolts of any panto is the goodies versus the baddies. Here we get to cheer when the hero strolls onto the stage and boo when the baddies show their true colours. This good versus evil theme has been popular with audiences for centuries - and is one of the reasons why TV programmes like Big Brother have done so well.

We love to see a goodie win the day and a baddie get their comeuppance. Children particularly lap of all this up. They get to shout, jeer, boo and hiss to their heart''s content, and no-one is going to tell them off for being too noisy.

And then there's the obligatory panto catchphrases. You'll be hard pushed to find a panto in this country that doesn't call upon the audience to shout 'He's behind you!' at some point. For parents, it's charming to watch your little ones' face light up as they genuinely think it's hilarious that the character doesn't know that someone or something is hiding behind them.

You also get the other panto stalwart of 'Oh no it isn't, oh yes it is!' which is equally brilliant to anyone under the age of 10.

These days, children might get an extra treat when the hero throws sweets out into the crowd or if they call a few delighted kids up onto the stage to take part in a song or a funny scene.

And let's not forget the comical songs, the cross-dressing heroes, the pantomime dame and the sheer festive spirit that oozes out of every panto.

If you haven't been to a panto in years, maybe now's the time to remember why you loved them so much as a child.

A pantomime really is cracking Christmas fun (Oh yes it is!) Here's a handy guide to some of the most popular pantos: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves This is actually one of the newer fairy tales to be turned into a pantomime. Evidence suggests that the pantomime versions of this classic story started appearing after the famous Disney film in 1937. It tells the much-loved tale of Snow White who is forced to hide from her Evil Stepmother in the forest, where she befriends seven little people - Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey and Sneezy.

Priceless panto gem - The lovable Dopey Cinderella The origins of this story date back to the late 16th Century. It has evolved over the years to become the tale we know and love. Poor Cinderella is forced to act as a servant while the Ugly Sisters and nasty Stepmother enjoy a life of luxury. When the local Prince Charming holds a ball to find a bride, Cinderella is left out in the cold. But with the help of her of Fairy Godmother, she goes to the ball and the rest is history! This is one of the most popular pantomimes and celebs have flocked to star in versions of it over the years - the famous Rogers and Hammerstein version featured Kenneth Williams and Tommy Steele. Priceless panto gem - It's got to be the lovable Buttons.

Peter Pan Based on the hugely successful novel by JM Barrie, this story has been around since the turn of the last century. Changes in copyright law allowed this tale to be turned into a pantomime relatively recently, and it's now one of the most popular choices for theatre production companies. It tells the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, and his adventures with Wendy, John and Michael, the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell the fairy.

Priceless panto gem - The flying children.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears Goldilocks is one of the most enduring pantomimes, as it was regularly performed in Victorian times. The story itself dates back to at least the 1800s, but was made popular after appearing in Grimm's fairy tales. The timeless classic of Goldilocks tells the story of the young girl who wanders into a bear's cottage in the woods and tries out their porridge, chairs and beds. Priceless panto gem - Who's been sleeping in my bed?!

Jack and the Beanstalk The origins of this story go back to ancient folklore about 'Jack the Giant Killer' - but these early versions didn't feature many of the elements we love today. The more modern pantomime version tells the tale of poor boy Jack who buys some magic beans and grows a giant beanstalk in his garden. He has to conquer the evil giant he meets as a result. It's said that a girl played the principal boy in a pantomime for the first time ever in a production of Jack and the Beanstalk in 1819, when Eliza Povey played Jack. Priceless panto gem - Fee Fi Fo Fum!

Aladdin This story comes from one of many in the Arabian Nights tales and it has been on the pantomime circuit for around 200 years. It tells the story of a poor street boy who is recruited by a sorcerer to access the magic of the legendary lamp. The much-loved Widow Twankey from Aladdin is one of the most recognisable characters in the history of modern panto, and has been played by a string of household names over the years including Christopher Biggins, Sir Ian McKellen and Lily Savage. Priceless panto gem - Widow Twanky of course Dick Whittington One of the few pantomimes which is based partly on a true story. There was indeed a Dick Whittington - who came from a wealthy British family and eventually became Lord Mayor of London in the 14th and 15th centuries. The first recorded pantomime of this popular tale was back in 1814. But the panto version bears little resemblance to the real Dick Whittington's s life - the panto Dick is a poor boy who comes to the capital to seek his fortune. He makes a lifelong friend in Tommy the cat and the production follows their adventures together as Dick falls in love and is wrongfully accused of stealing. The baddy here is King Rat - who detests poor Dick and Tommy. Priceless panto gem - The evil King Rat Puss in Boots The original story of Puss in Boots dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries in France. It was first performed as a pantomime in London in 1817. It's based on the story of Miller's youngest son who is left poor after his father leaves him nothing but a cat in his will. Luckily the cat is cunning and worms his way into the King's palace, where the poor Miller's son is mistaken for a Lord and falls in love with the princess. Priceless panto gem - The wily Puss.

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