Whether its a yearly family tradition, you haven’t been since school or spend the Christmas months trying your hardest to avoid it, Panto is hard to escape! It’s an eccentric, wonderful and quintessentially British tradition. Undoubtedly baffling for any newcomer to the UK, Panto must be up there with the strangest British Christmas traditions that fellow countries cannot seem to understand. So where did Panto and its bizarre traditions come from and why does it seem to be such a uniquely British institution?
The word Pantomime is traced back to ancient Rome and even pre-Roman Greece. However the modern Briitsh Panto is most easily linked back to the continental commedia dell’arte, a form of popular theatre that arose in Italy in the 16th Century. This slapstick street theatre reached England via France and was adapted during the 17th Century into a type of early pantomime called a harlequinade, most famously featuring the cheeky and acrobatic harlequin.
The early 1800s saw the emergence of the most famous of the pantomime clowns was Joseph Grimaldi. His influence on these early pantomimes was immense and the public clamoured to see his performances at Sadlers Wells and Drury Lane. As the 19th Century comic star of Panto shifted from the clown to the Dame, a change led by one of the earliest comic dames Dan Leno. During the Victorian era Panto became typical Christmas fare with the introduction of the fairytale element and a witty rhyming style that included topical content and popular songs.
Since then Panto has continued to develop, although it saw a slight decline in the late 20th Century the everlasting appeal of Panto means it continues to stand strong despite changing tastes. Today featuring pop stars, television personalities and sports stars Panto remains a Christmas family favourite. It retains an unconventional mix of theatre, comedy and music, inevitable from it’s long and complex history. But it’s perhaps this odd blend of traditions developed and pieced together over hundreds of years that makes Panto so completely unique and extremely entertaining!
Do you love panto? Join us for Cinderella this Christmas for the biggest pantomime on the south coast!
Cinderella: The Pantomime is at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre from Friday 29 November 2019 – Sunday 5 January 2020. Tickets are available from worthingtheatres.co.uk or call our Box Office on 01903 206206.