After now having had my first session at The Grange Players I decided to start researching Pantomimes further so to get a better understanding of pantomimes and gain knowledge of the codes and conventions of a stereotypical panto.
The development of English pantomime was influenced by commedia dell’arte, a form of popular theatre that started in Italy in the Early Modern Period. They were mostly improvised and told comic stories which taught lessons. Each story included fixed characters. These often included young lovers (Arlecchino and Colombina), her father (Pantalone), and Pantalone’s servants (Pulcinella and Pierrot, with one always being smart and the other stupid. In the 17th century, adaptations of the commedia became popular in England and were developed into the pantomimes we have today.
The Characters of a commedia dell’arte
Traditionally performed at Christmas for family audiences, British pantos are still very popular and incorporate song, dance, comedy and topical references, audience participation, and innuendos.
They are almost always based on traditional children’s stories such as Cinderella, Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Jack and the Beanstalk. These tend to be mainly performed in larger theatre companies and staged by major theatres.
Smaller theatres and amateur companies like The Grange Players perform a wider range of stories, but they still stay the same.
Pantomimes have a lot of conventions that appear although it is not mandatory to include them and they are.
- The leading male character (the principal boy) is traditionally played by a young woman, usually in male garments
- The Dame is usually played by a man in drag.
- Innuendos are often made out of innocent phrases. This is usually entertainment for the adults
- Audience participation, including “He’s behind you!”, “Oh, yes it is!” and “Oh, no it isn’t!” The audience is always encouraged to boo the villain and “awwwww” the victims, such as Dame
- Music is usually well known but the lyrics re—written to fit the plot, scene or setting
- One audience participation song is traditional
- An animal played by two actors (often a pantomime horse or cow)
- Good enter from one side while the bad characters enter from the opposite.
- A slapstick comedy
- The Chorus, who can be considered extras and appear in multiple scenes
Two Panto Dames and the “Jack” character