Friday, 9 December 2011

West Country pantomimes – the history behind the stories…

Every year, thousands crowd into theatres across Britain to shout “He’s behind you!” and “Oh, no you didn’t!” – but did you know that the very British pantomime has its origins in ancient Greece?

The pantomime was a popular form of entertainment in ancient Greece and later, Rome. A 'pantomime' was originally a group of imitators or impressionists, accompanied by songs and music. Later, in the Middle Ages, plays like the Mummers Play contained many of the archetypal elements of the contemporary panto such as stage fights, coarse humour and creatures.

Poster from 1890
The first performance that would resemble a modern panto is thought to be the 1804 production of Cinderella at Drury Lane, London. Some dispute this, however, arguing that 1870 was the date of the first Cinderella pantomime in England.

Panto story lines and scripts are almost always based on traditional children's stories, however plot lines are almost always 'adapted' for comic or satirical effect. There are lots of traditions, such as gender reversal (the principal boy is traditionally played by a young woman, and the pantomime dame played by a man) and plenty of audience participation. Another tradition is the celebrity guest star, a practice that dates back to the late 19th century, when Augustus Harris, proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, hired well-known variety artists for his pantomimes.

Here are a few West Country versions for you to choose from this year: 

Lisa Riley, Simon Grant, Buck's Fizz' Heidi Manton and Palm 105.5's Ben Moseby appear in Snow White in Torquay, from the 9th December to 1st January. "Snow White" is perhaps best known as a Brothers Grimm story which features the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin, and the seven dwarves. The dwarves weren’t given individual names as we know them today until Disney's 1937 film.

In Plymouth, Julian Clary is joined by guest stars Keith Harris, Orville and Cuddles in a modern performance of Cinderella, the theme of which may well have originated in classical antiquity, with Ancient Greek historian Strabo recording a 1st century BC tale of the Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis who lost a sandal to an eagle. The sandal was dropped into the lap of the king, who sent his men in quest of the woman who wore the sandal – needless to say, she was shortly the king’s wife…

Blue Peter's Peter Duncan stars in Dick Whittington in Exeter, a character based on the real-life Sir Richard Whittington (c. 1354–1423), Lord Mayor of London, a Member of Parliament and a sheriff of London. Unlike the lead character in the story, a poor boy in the 14th century who becomes a wealthy merchant and eventually the Lord Mayor of London because of the ratting abilities of his cat, the real Whittington did not come from a poor family and there is no evidence that he owned a cat!

Check out the events on our Explore the Area map for more ideas near your favourite holiday cottage. Enjoy the panto season!