Oh Panto!

Words by Courtney O’Grady

When I first moved to Scotland from America 22 years ago, I had never heard of a Christmas pantomime. Needless to say, I did not know what to expect, as my only understanding of the word pantomime had me thinking I would be watching a silent man with a white painted face climb an imaginary ladder for two hours. I could not have been more wrong.

Although many think it to be a strictly British custom, panto as I now know it has been inventing and re-inventing itself since the middle ages, taking on some characteristics of early Italian street theatre, courtly European masques, and traditional English Mummers plays. Today, most pantomimes follow a well-known formula that has cemented their place as a family favourite during the festive season.

While it is true that most pantomimes are adapted from popular fairy tales, it is more likely that children love this form of theatre because it is one time when they are invited to openly and loudly boo and hiss at the performers, and even engage in raucous debate as to whether or not something is as it seems – ‘Oh no, it isn’t’! Adult audience members may enjoy some boisterous input as well, but their laughs typically come from the localised quips and overt innuendo, usually delivered by the cross-dressing dame.

Because of the popularity of the art form, pantomimesnow run throughout most of December, and some even beyond Christmas. In and around Aberdeen, we are absolutely spoiled for choice. The 2019 Panto Season includes productions of Cinderella at both Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre and Inverurie Town Hall, Snow White at The Tivoli Theatre, Beauty and the Beast in Peterhead, and The Snow Queen in Stonehaven.

Although it is not something I grew up with myself, I am glad that pantomime has become a holiday tradition in my own family. Apart from all the obvious reasons to love the Christmas Panto, it is a wonderful side-effect that this gregarious form of expressive art attracts a widely varied audience, who might not otherwise be exposed to the joys of the theatre.

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