By Helen Chatterton
With the end of term only three weeks away, Christmas is nearly upon us. Within the theatre world that can only mean only one thing: pantomime. Whilst pantomime can easily be dismissed as a novelty of little ‘serious’ worth, behind the glitter and slapstick the genre has a much greater value to the theatre community.
The primary joy of the panto lies in its accessibility. Working off a basis of harmless fun (but expect lots of Trump-based jokes this year), any good script will have layers of humour and references to reach all ages. It is consequently one of the few opportunities for the whole family to be entertained by a stage show, and it is thus that the panto has become a happy tradition for many families.
Whilst children sit enchanted, for adults, the simple act of going to the theatre can act as a welcome break from the stress that can creep in over the festive period, not to mention the doom and gloom of current affairs. Pantomime is critically important to the future of theatre both socially and economically. For many, pantomime is what draws them to a particular theatre for the first time. To theatres, this provides a perfect advertising opportunity for future productions. This is especially crucial to local and regional theatres.
With most pantos suitable for very young children, it is an opportunity for children to fall in love with the theatre before they encounter the divisive Shakespeare in their teen years. When they do first meet ‘Romeo and Juliet’, having a background of critical awareness of the theatre, even if that’s as simple as discussions over which character was their favourite and why, will help. With mounting concerns over ageing audiences, creating a relationship between a child and the stage has never been more important. Similarly, performances provide performance opportunities for local youths and amateurs. Pantos are also crucial in providing a month of employment to otherwise forgotten soap and reality TV stars. When else will you get the opportunity to boo and hiss at that vaguely recognisable face?
Whilst a theatre dominated by young families may not be the most natural of habitats for a group of twenty-somethings, panto is a genre which rarely disappoints, and is definitely worth trying to squeeze in between summatives this Christmas.
Photograph: blairurquhart via Creative Commons