Just before the end of the year, I headed up to Stafford to see one of my oldest friends in Panto. I have a real soft-spot for Panto; it’s silly, it’s fun and it’s the kind of show that can get a whole family cheering, booing and singing along with the broadest grins on their faces. And, as an ex-theatre man, anything that puts bums on seats is great by me.
For my overseas readers, Panto (or Pantomime, to give it its full title), is a peculiarly English tradition of theatre where the lead boy is usually played by a girl, the main comic character is a man in drag and the plot is usually taken from a fairy story, historical events or classic children’s tale. And yes, it’s for kids.
Look around the theatres of the UK over the Christmas period and you will see numerous and varied versions of Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington (another peculiarly British story, about a former Lord Mayor of London and his cat), Snow White and many others.
Although it sounds like some kind of drug-fuel hallucination, the real fun and value of a panto can only be genuinely enjoyed by going to see one. I heartily recommend it to anyone visiting the UK over a Christmas period – they are a treat not to be missed.
No, they’re not the best-produced or slickest pieces of theatre you’ll see all year. They’re not the height of comedy nor will the performances trouble any award judges, but they bring one simple thing into the life of adults that can often be lacking: children’s laughter.
The thing I love more than anything else in Panto is the laughter, the shouts, the screams and the boos of the children who love to hate the baddie, love to love the leading ‘man’ and love to be swept away into another world of fun, fantasy and frolicking like no other.
Sitting in the Gatehouse Theatre in Stafford last week, I watched a fun, entertaining show that I wouldn’t have seen were it not for Dan. But what really made it for me was the child in the row in front getting utterly absorbed in the whole thing. Rarely do you see a child so passionately involved in anything in the modern world and be allowed to shout, chatter and take part in the way kids are in these shows.
Christmas is a time for magic and miracles all over the world. And the greatest of these is the laughter of a child. Truly, nothing can beat it.