It’s very easy to spend hours and hours pouring over stories, scripts, summaries and scene lists when looking for your next pantomime. I wanted to compile a list of 5 easy things that you can check to see if you have a decent pantomime script.
Writers, directors and actors will all have different ideas of what makes a good pantomime work but the script is something everyone can agree on. A good script sets your amateur pantomime in good stead to be a fantastic show.
Make ’em Laugh
This is the first test for every script that I read when deciding which to choose for a show. If it makes me laugh (or at least giggle) when I read it then it’s sure to translate well onto a stage. If it makes other people laugh on reading it; even better. Of course, you also need to check that there’s plenty of slapstick humour too and fun pantomime ideas; ‘it’s behind you’, ‘oh yes it is’ and more.
Does your script have a strong ‘goodie’ and a strong ‘baddie’ that the audience can root for/against respectively? This is really essential as there’s nothing worse than a limp immortal. Then of course you have the Dame (who I think is integral to any good script) and your comic(s), principal boy, principal girl and various animals that often pop up in scripts. If you can put a tick in most of these boxes, chances are you’re onto a winner with good pantomime ideas.
The Beginning, The Middle, The ‘Nearly There’ and The End
The structure of a good script is a little more complicated than this but I think that’s what it really comes down to. The beginning: Dame Trot is poor, Widow Twankey’s being evicted and Cinderella is sweeping her floor. There’s an upbeat opening number, and the main characters are introduced and their big problems are spelled out to the audience. The Middle: Cinderella rides off in her pumpkin carriage, Jack climbs the beanstalk and Aladdin enters the magical cave. The ‘nearly there’ is where the characters think they’ve solved the problem but then the giant starts following them down the beanstalk. Then you have the end where they all get married, there’s a glitzy finale song and there’s a beautiful happy-ever-after . Not forgetting all the pantomime activities in-between!
Modern themes set in a traditional fairy tale
There’s nothing worse than a dated pantomime script, misogyny, old gags and slow-progress is rife amongst amateur panto and it needn’t be. Let’s have some proper adventure with real danger please, after all children are used to action-packed super hero movies and animations these days. What about some principal girls who aren’t damsels in distress but rather strong role models for our sons and daughters? Indeed Bristol Old Vic hit the headlines with it’s production of Sleeping Beauty where it was the prince that needed saving from a deep sleep, not the princess. The modernity of the script also comes through in how relevant it is to a your audience. After all, panto is built for kids but should be enjoyed by all members of the family and a slick production is all about the pace of the script and how well it flows together.
A moral to the pantomime story
When writing a new script I like to focus around a real moral to the story which should be relevant to todays audiences; ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’, ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Think really carefully about the messages your panto script contains and whether young people can identify with the main characters. Weaving this through a script is the sign of a really great writer and the moral of the story should shine through on stage too.
Try to test all scripts you read against these five criteria and you’re on the way to a great production. Now just help your cast to realise your vision and the script will speak for itself! You can see my pantomime scripts here and read more about my experience here.