Opinion - why is pantomime so important?
It’s that time of the year when that quintessentially British tradition of pantomime will appear all over the country. Whether you love them or hate them, pantomime is at the very heart of the Christmas programme for most theatres across the UK. So why is pantomime so important not just to the theatre industry, but to individuals and families across the whole country?
Whether it’s one performed in a local community centre or in a major theatre, statistics show that pantomime is the only time each year that most people attend the theatre and is more often than not a child’s first introduction to live theatre. Annually, professional theatres across the UK report pantomime to be their most attended production, and many rely on the income it brings in to support or sustain the venue for the rest of the year. Stats also prove that a significant percentage of audiences attending pantomimes come either in school groups or as families spending time together, making precious memories that will last a lifetime.
Take it from the person writing this; 40 years on, I can still remember clearly the first time I walked into that magical auditorium with my parents and grandparents. The wonders which unfolded on the stage sparked a lifelong passion in me, and ultimately a whole career. It was an annual tradition for us, one of the only times in the whole year we spent time as a whole family and did something together that we could all enjoy.
To this day I still keep that same tradition with my own family. After selfies in the foyer, it’s time to put down our phones, stop looking at screens and to spend some quality time together having a good laugh and joining in with the on-stage antics and shout outs. There’s no Brexit in panto (apart from the occasional corny joke!), it’s weatherproof and a suitable for everyone in the family, not just the children. Not been recently with your friends or family? Why not? The pantomime industry in the UK is thriving. Wondering whether you might enjoy it now you’re a bit older? Let us tempt you further!
Pantomime is stacked with tradition but is also bang up to date. From the ‘oh yes you haves’ and the ‘its behind yous’, to the pantomime dames and the traditional routines which form the basis of a traditional pantomime, you’ll be amazed how much interaction there is, how astonishing the special effects are, how current the music is, and how much fun it is to join in and take part. We’re the only country in the world to have panto, so that makes us the world experts! We do it brilliantly, and we get to experience it every Christmas. We are also the guardians of a tradition which needs to be passed down for generations to come. A traditional pantomime has all the elements you’ve come to expect – plenty of humour, fabulous music, a great story, some corny jokes and plenty of audience participation yet at the same time riding the wave of current entertainment and technology trends.
There’s a wealth of different productions and performance types to choose from. Whether it’s at your own local theatre or one further afield, there’s always a right production at the right time at the right price for everyone, it’s just a question of finding it.
Usually there’s more affordable performances (on the days which aren’t so popular) which are a little cheaper than the premium priced performances which tend to be on the most popular days. There are also accessible performances such as signed for the deaf, audio described for the blind and relaxed performances for those who might benefit from a more relaxed atmosphere within the auditorium and may like a little more freedom to move around. Relaxed performances are also ideal for those with learning difficulties, dementia, autism, families with young children and many more. There really is a performance to suit everyone. You’ll often find the very best value tickets on the opening weekends when the show is in ‘preview’.
Then there’s the type of show to pick. Star name or no star name? Big or small theatre space? Professional or amateur? The choice is yours. Generally, the bigger the theatre, the bigger the production and star name, and therefore the higher the ticket price. But don’t write off a production just because it’s in a smaller venue. Some of the very best pantomime I’ve ever seen has been in some of the smallest theatres around, which can also be less intimidating for younger audiences.
So, I ask again. Not been to the pantomime for a while? Why not? Wherever you choose to go and whichever production you choose to see, you never know - you might just love it and start an annual tradition of your family making memories together.