Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Thought you would want to know, given the topic for this week’s post, that the font used in my Book Brush pictures is actually called Aladin! How apt! (Yes, US spelling here).
By the time this post goes out, Janet and I will have seen the latest production from The Chameleon Theatre Group, their annual pantomime. This time they have staged the classic fairytale, Sleeping Beauty.
I hope to share my review next week but thought I would look at the links between the classic fairytales and pantomime. They do seem like a match made in heaven – or at least a match made for the boards.
Using Fairytales – The Advantages
Pantomime relies a great deal on audience participation. It is the fun of it. Oh yes it is!
So for that to work, you need to have a story which is well known and this is where classic fairytales are ideal. Most people know them. Most would have shared at least some of the tales with children, grandchildren etc. Given the pantomime is for all ages, you want material for all ages to get behind. Fairytales are a winner here.
While the basics of the fairytale are retained, they are open to adding in additional characters. We don’t know that much about Aladdin’s mother but the pantomime has given her a major starring role in the character of Widow Twankey and great fun she is too.
Traditionally in pantomime, characters like Widow Twankey would be the pantomime Dame and that role is always played by a man. The Principal Boy, usually the lead male character, is always played by someone who isn’t. Pantomime is renowned for characters being played by the opposite gender.
On a more serious note, Shakespeare also had fun with having female characters disguised as men though they would actually be male given, in the Bard’s case, women were not allowed to be on the stage in his day. So men dressing up as women is nothing new. Pantomime exploits this. The Dame’s costume, hair, make up etc is always exaggerated and naturally that is to generate big laughs. So much slapstick (and cheeky humour) comes from the Dame role in panto.
All stories rely on people being willing to suspend their disbelief to see the tale through. Fairytales are not set in this world but in some mythical one. So you have suspension of disbelief already built in here. People will go with that – and do.
Fairytales are also open to having other characters added in to them for pantomime purposes. Cinderella is not all on her own in pantomime. She does have company here – Buttons though I don’t recall him being in the original fairytale. He has made a useful addition though!
Pantomimes are renowned for their humour in the form of slapstick (for all ages to enjoy), witty one liners (often with the older members of the audience in mind), corny jokes (often with the younger members of the audience in mind), and physical comedy (for all ages to enjoy).
The fairytales have been around for long enough for jokes to be constructed around them. For example, the old classic below still brings about a laugh, despite changes in technology.
What did Cinderella say when the chemist mislaid her photos?
Some day my prints will come.
I remember taking my photos to the chemist and, later, waiting for them to come back from places like Bonusprint. That said, people still appreciate puns and I have seen plenty laugh at this gag, though most of us now use digital photography and the younger generation… do they know about film at all?
As for the slapstick side of things, fairytales do have exaggerated characters in them. That exaggeration can encourage slapstick.
Man: Eggs are going up again.
Dame: That’ll surprise a few chickens.
It also doesn’t matter if some of the gags go above the heads of the younger audience members. There will still be plenty for them to laugh at. Pantomime is inclusive. The message of most fairytales, as far as I see it, is to encourage kindness and that the horrible won’t get away with it. I doubt if the wicked stepmother and the Ugly Sisters got an invite to Cinderella’s wedding for one thing.
Pantomime is a cheery theatrical production. Fairytales generally have a feel good ending to them. Yet another reason why fairytales are a great source for stories to be used for pantomime. Do check out this wonderful article from the Victoria and Albert Museum
Pantomime can also make sly digs at current affairs and there has been many a reference to local places and events in the productions The Chameleon Theatre Group have staged. But for pantomime to work at all it has to have a strong story behind it, a plot line to follow, and the fairytales oblige nicely there.
The fairytales also have a range of characters (which gives roles for people to play on stage) or the stories are open enough to introduce new ones (again useful for panto).
Using Fairytales – The Disadvantages
I don’t think there are many disadvantages but one that did spring to mine was the problem of over-familiarity with the stories. If you’re not interested in fairytales, why would you want to see a pantomime based on them?
But there is an ace to play. As there are so many fairytales available, it is easy to vary the pantomimes on offer. Also each theatrical company will bring their own take to the familiar tales, their own gags and so on. Their own gags often relate to something local to the theatre in question. The Chameleons have done this too. So there is no need for over-familiarity to breed contempt here.
There is one other disadvantage I should mention. If you like a quiet night out, the panto is not for you, regardless of what type of story they use!
Keeping Fairytales and Pantomime Relevant
One huge advantage the pantomime has it is often someone’s first introduction to theatre. The hope is naturally to get people hooked on going to the theatre at an early age (and at least to see it as something they would do).
Fairytale jokes for panto purposes can usually be updated for the present day. The odd gag against politicians is always going to go down well, regardless of what era is represented here! You just update the name of the politician you’re taking the mickey out of here. I would expect some gags against the present government to come up in pantomime.
It is a long standing tradition to go to the panto and long may that continue. Theatre should be an enjoyable experience. Pantomime is a fabulous way of kickstarting that love of theatre.
I love fairytales. I love pantomime. I think they are a wonderful match. Enacting the fairytales helps remind each generation of what the stories are. Fairytales give something for pantomimes/theatre to stage. Win-win here then.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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