Pantos - Pantomonium

As the countdown to Christmas begins, Lucy Evans pays tribute to that most British of theatrical institutions


Pantomime is the theatrical version of the Woolworth’s pick and mix counter: sickly sweet, and full of unnatural additives. But once you’ve had your first bite you can’t stop until you feel sick.

So, as the panto season begins for another year, The List proudly presents some facts you probably didn’t know about this most beloved of family artforms:

2003 saw so many productions of Snow White being staged simultaneously that it led to the UK’s first ever dwarf shortage. Some productions downscaled (think Snow White and the Four Dwarves), while enterprising theatrical agencies saw the chance of a lifetime and imported replacement dwarves from as far afield as Sweden, Belgium and Romania.

Like the beanstalk itself, panto grew from unpromising roots. Its origins lie in Greek and Roman theatre (the term ‘pantomime’ comes from the Greek for ‘we can act everything’). In the Middle Ages, cavorting Italian clowns battered each other with inflated pig bladders, setting sky high standards for what would follow.

This year, Neighbours Bad Guy Stefan Denis is playing the villainous Abanazar in Aladdin at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, but generally in Scotland we eschew the purpose-built TV celeb in favour of the well-kent faces of theatre performers.

After falling out of favour in the 1950s, the female principal boy was brought back by Cilla Black in a pioneering performance in 1971. Ever since, the male leads have been female and the Dames have been men.

Mother Goose is probably the oldest story to become a pantomime, dating back to a Greek myth about a bird that layed golden eggs. The panto based on the story has been bringing in the gold ever since. When Rikki Fulton played the dame at The Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, an incredible 240,000 people saw him.

In 2005 panto stars were signed up by Glasgow’s RSAMD to give vocal tips to teachers who found that classroom teaching put a strain on their vocal cords. Seriously.

Theatre is full of odd traditions but panto has thrown up its very own. The fairy always enters stage right and the baddie stage left, thought to symbolize Heaven and Hell. The final couplets are never performed in rehearsal, only on the first night, meaning the lines are often forgotten by the actors the first time the audience are there to hear them.

Topical jokes referring to current affairs have been an integral part of the formula since the late 1850s, when pantos began to incorporate tittersome references to the Crimean War. This year Edinburgh audiences can expect jokes about the trams, and in Glasgow don’t miss the japes about the new ‘bendy bridge’ over the Clyde.

And that’s it for another year of panto.

Oh no it isn’t!

See listings for details of this year’s pantomimes being performed in Edinburgh, Glasgow and beyond.


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