With a lot of this year’s pantomime season being cancelled or postponed, I’ve been thinking a lot about why we do pantomime, and what I’ll miss about seeing them up and down the country this year.
In a normal year, I’ll book to see between ten and twenty pantomimes every year all over the country. I usually try and book them between London (my base) and Devon (my family home) and I bring along various friends and family to every one that I can.
I love pantomime for all its wit and wonder. It’s a truly magical art form where nothing is out of reach, and everyone is welcome. You can be sat in an auditorium with everyone from the youngest children to the oldest grandparents and everyone is enjoying themselves.
Pantomime is Important for The Future of Theatre
Perhaps the most important thing about pantomime is the preservation of theatre audiences for years to come. Sometimes the genre is reduced to only serving this purpose (which I don’t think is helpful), but it is a very important part of a theatre’s annual offering. Studies have proven that children who visit theatres as children are more likely to continue booking tickets and seeing shows throughout their lives. That is the power that a pantomime has over its youngest audience members.
The Financial Stability of Theatres
The second most-referenced reason that pantomime is important is the coffers that it fills at regional theatres every year at Christmas. The funding environment for theatres is getting tougher every year, and regional pantomimes make a huge contribution towards covering the income deficit that many theatres experience in a normal year. But wider than this, the audiences that book at Christmas can also be cross-sold to throughout the year and encouraged to book for other events too. So not only is pantomime a direct investment into the theatre’s bank account, but it’s also an investment that grows income throughout the year. And that’s before we even talk about the amount of light-up wands and refreshments sold at panto time!
Old Fashioned Entertainment
The best pantomimes bring something new every year with originality and ideas to keep the genre fresh. But they also hark back to the ‘good old days’ of entertainment. The music halls that were rich with comedy and cabaret performances from some of the best entertainers in the world. Good sit coms are hard to find on the tele, and often the best comedy is live, and it can sometimes feel as though that’s being lost from our stages and replaced with important (but less light hearted) political work. There’s nothing like getting together with your family for a laugh at Christmas, a good panto is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Pantomime has been a tradition in Britain for around 200 years, and it’s showing no signs of stopping now. It’s a way for us to laugh at ourselves, to mark the year gone by and to spend time with family and friends at the theatre. Tradition is a large part of why pantomime is important, and traditions are always a strong part of the festive season too. I know families who have been visiting the same pantomimes across the generations for over 25 years. That says something really special about the genre.
The Next Generation of Talent
When we think about casting in pantomimes, it’s easy to think about the star names and national treasures who tread the boards every year in the name of entertaining the masses. But you’ll often find that pantomime is the training ground for some of the stars of tomorrow, yet to get their big break. There are also people who have been jobbing actors for years and they are some of the most experienced entertainers in the country. Some of the best pantomimes I see year in, year out are those with little or no star names at all. They have ‘local celebrities’ who return annually for the Christmas stint, and they welcome their audiences as old friends.
Because of the relatively short amount of development time for a yearly panto (usually between 6 and 18 months), they are one of theatre’s events which can be relatively reactive to changes in the industry and they reflect current events and popular culture. Most big musicals and plays are at least a year in development, usually longer, whereas pantomimes can be adapted even during the run to reflect events just hours after they’ve happened. I remember a couple of years ago when a big airport was brought to a halt because of illegal drone activity, I saw a panto later that day which had included a joke about it. Now, that’s a quick turnaround! It also holds the importance of being a part of societal change. For example producers making Aladdin need to be sensitive as some material can be racially offensive and in bad taste.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on why pantomime is important – it’s such a part of the community and means so much to lots of different people. You can send me an email to get in touch.