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We have been living in the UK for 2 years and there are several things that happen around the holidays that is different in the states. So I thought I would post on a few of them during the month of December.
Pantomime Season begins the end of November and continues until the end of December. We went to our first one last year and can't wait to go again this year. So what is a it? This is taken from our local newletter from the British liason to the American living in Britain explaining what a Pantomime is (I thought her explanation would be better than anything I tried to write):
This is a British tradition and is a wonderful, fun experience albeit a little eccentric. Pantomimes are nearly always based on well known children's stories such as Peter Pan, Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc. Pantomimes are not only performed in some of the most prestigious theaters in the land but also many local church halls throughout the UK. Whether a lavish professional performance or a hammy local amateur dramatic production, all pantomimes are well attended and great fun.
Audience participation is a very important part of the pantomime. The audience are encouraged to "boo" whenever the villain enters the stage, argue with the Dame (who is nearly always a man) and warn the leading boy (who is nearly always a girl) when the villain is behind them by shouting out "He is behind you"
Slapstick is another important part of the British Pantomime -- the throwing of custard pies, the ugly sisters (played by men) falling over, and lots of silly costumes, including of course, the panto horse which is played by two people in a horse costume.
So how did this curious tradition come about?
Pantomime literally means "all kinds of mime". It is generally acknowledged that the British panto is modeled on the early masques of the Elizabethan and Stuart days. In the 14th century the early masques were musical, mime or spoken dramas, usually performed in a grand house although by the 17th century they were really no more than an excuse for a theme party.
The timing of the British panto at Christmas and the role reversal of the lead characters may have evolved from the Tudor "Feast of Fools" presided over by the Lord of Misrule. The Lord of Misrule, normally a commoner with a reputation of knowing how to enjoy himself was selected to direct the entertainment. The festival is thought to have originated from the benevolent Roman masters who allowed their servants to be the boss for a while.
We just got the list of Pantomimes performing in our area and we now just have to decide which one to go too.