Somewhat Odd Christmas Traditions

So, tonight we went to a pantomime.
Oh, no, we didn’t!
Oh, yes, we did!
Oh, no, we didn’t!

Obviously, if you’re not British, you will probably be somewhat confused by that, but it is one of the audience participation lines so unique to this bizarre form of theatre, and there is, I am certain, nobody in Britain who would be unfamiliar with that line, or any other one! I do remember this classic British Christmas tradition from when I was a kid, but I can’t honestly say I’ve been to the “panto” since I was about four. So, I was a little apprehensive taking our kids to one because it is such an unfamiliar format and I wasn’t quite sure what they’d make of it. As the first bad guy took the stage, and the audience started booing and hissing, Liah looked up at me in bewilderment, “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that,” says she. But by the end of it, she was booing and hissing with the rest, and having a good laugh over the fact that Mother Goose was a man dressed as a woman, another “rule” of pantomime.
Apparently there is always a “dame”, usually the oldest female character in the cast, a principal boy, usually played by a girl, and at least one “baddy”. The shows are based on classic folk or fairy tales like Dick Whitington, Alladin, Little Red Riding Hood, and Mother Goose, and are ever present this time of year in large professional theaters as well as village halls and churches. It seems most Brits indulge in panto in some form or another over the Christmas period, even though there is really nothing especially Christmassy about it. For the Canadians among you, the best way I can think to describe it is a cross between musical theatre and dinner theatre. Without the dinner. But with the audience interaction. And with the singing and dancing.
Ours was a small local production at the village church hall, and I am happy to report that the kids loved it. Obviously an incredible amount of work went into it, and it was, indeed, thoroughly, yet oddly entertaining. One of the unique things about the panto is that you never quite know what time it will end because it changes each time, depending on several factors – the level of audience participation, the number of lines forgotten, prop failures, or costume malfunctions (all part of the fun and expected by everyone), and the amount of ad-libbing on that particular evening. Mother Goose, I think, was just the right length, and I believe it was almost a sell-out at every performance, which is quite an accomplishment for a community production. Such a classic is the pantomime that in 2008 the Royal Mail Christmas stamps were based its classic characters!
So, there you go, Christmas in the UK. Mincemeat tarts, plum pudding, and a couple of drag queens in sparkly costumes. Go figure!


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One thought on “Somewhat Odd Christmas Traditions

  1. Kathryn Younker

    I’ve heard of the pantomine in Britain but I had no idea there was that level of audience interaction. What a wonderful experience for the girls! It will be great for them to experience all the Christmas traditions that are different from ours here in Canada.

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