Pantotime – Part 2

Izat a marra on yer barra, Clara? Stanley Baxter

How can you tell a pantomime from a Christmas show?

In recent years, Scottish theatres have switched between traditional and contemporary material for their seasonal productions.  What’s the distinction? 

Like chips in Edinburgh, the difference is the source.

Charles Perrault (French, 1628-1673) gives us Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots and Red Riding Hood

From the original Bee Gees – Brothers Grimm (19th century, Germany) – we get Snow White, Hansel & Gretel and Cinderella (again).

The roots – and routes – of these classic fairy tales-to-panto are as mixed up as the genre itself, but the repertoire usually keeps to the top 10: the 6 above, plus Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Babes in the Wood and Mother Goose.

The characters also tell you it’s a panto.

The dame (traditionally played by a man, in a dress – sure to get a laugh); principal boy (a woman), principal girl, the Buttons role, the father/king/baron, the good and bad fairies.  Stock roles which fit into the story and style of panto.

And, thanks to those fairies, morality. 

Can you beat good versus evil as a dramatic format?  From the very first scene – good fairy STAGE LEFT (like this blog!), bad on the right. With, of course, hoorays and boos.

The moral of the story in those Citizens’ pantos was just as clear.  Though it depended as much on solidarity (Children, will you ALL shout out together and help Cinders?) as goodness.

In my time at the Citz, the change from panto to Christmas show took a particular progression. 

As so often, financial necessity was the mother of artistic invention. 

When I started, the panto (Puss in Boots) was an established format with 9 principals, 7 chorus and 4 musicians in the pit.  20 performers for nearly 2 months?  Unthinkable nowadays!

We honed the numbers down in the early eighties, until Babes in the Wood (cast of 10, written by John Byrne, with Roger Allam, Robbie Coltrane, Pat Doyle and Gary Oldman as Daniel the Dog).

But panto became unsustainable.  So, we switched to a series of children’s tales – Merlin the Magnificent, The Snow Queen (if only we’d called it Frozen!), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

That last one was the most efficient and successful we ever did.  A cast of just 8.  The original’s 4 siblings were cut to 2: Lucy (lively, fearless Maureen Carr) and Edmund (gallus, lovable David McKay).  It wasn’t easy getting the rights from the C.S. Lewis estate.

The allegorical element of the story (Aslan = Christ etc.) definitely helped the box office.  All those Catholic schools!  It made 96% target.

After a few more Christmas shows – Pinocchio, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Jungle Book – we refound panto – Aladdin, Mother Goose – in a slightly reduced form.

So, a happy ending. 

Look at what’s on this December in Scotland.  Hoaching with pantos.

Straight-to-the-audience style, smart-but-silly gags, over-the-top costumes (I remember Stanley Baxter’s walk-down outfit – eat your heart out, Ru Paul!), music, songs, the heart of an exciting story and fabulous characters.

I love the closing moments of panto performances: the end of the singalong compermetition, shout-outs to the audience and the rhyming couplets at the curtain-call.

So, here goes for this blog post:

Well, ladles and jellyspoons, boys and girls, you were ALL the best! 

Now – reads – I want youse all to give a big cheer for James from Cranhill, who can’t be with us because he’s one-hundred and eleven today.  Hooray!  Oh no, sorry – checks paper – that should be because he’s ill today. 

Our Christmas blog is ended,

We hope you liked both parts.

Did you enjoy the story?

The jokes, the songs, the f…un?!

Pantomime is brilliant,

It makes you pure ecstatic

A party we all vote for,

‘Cos it’s so democratic!

by Paul BassettGlasgow, November 2019.

Comments and feedback also welcome via e mail:

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