Whether you love them or hate them, the great British Pantomime is far from traditional anymore. Many of Reigate School of Ballet & Commercial Dance's pupils have taken part in dozens of pantos locally in Reigate, Redhill, Dorking and Leatherhead and all across Surrey. They offer a great avenue for children to perform and gain invaluable experience on the stage. But is this long standing tradition truly British?
Oh no it's not !!! Early forms of panto were conceived in the 16th Century in the street theatres of Italy. Based on the Commedia delle 'arte, an early form of theatre, John RIch was one of the early developers of Pantomime who used actors to perform improvised dialogue and eccentric characters. An acrobatic Harlequin was a major character which amazed street audiences. John Rich's plays became known as Harlequinades and stories were mainly about love, chases, goodies and baddies and some slapstick added to the mix.
By the Victorian period, the art form had developed and grown in popularity. Popular songs and jokes were added with even greater audience participation and involvement. The old style Harlequinades became less popular while the rise of the music hall flourished.
In Britain, Augustus Harris produced some huge and extravagant sets and set changes, and involved much role reversal - the "Dame" played by a man and the Principal Boy played by a woman. Inevitably a villain was always present, where audiences later started to "boo" and "hiss" to warn the good guys, and this became tradition along with many other idioms such as "He's behind you" or "oh no he isn't, / oh yes he is" .
The pantomimes today now involve current pop tunes and pop artists as well as popular television actors, which adds to the popularity. They are now performed all over Britain from small local halls to large-scale productions in A listed theatres. Popular ones include Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella where the stories are adapted with additional jokes and current themes, continuing to make them popular today.
For Reigate School of Ballet & Commercial Dance's pupils, they offer a great way to perform locally on theatre stages and work with current touring professionals. Any performing experience is vital experience and a learning curve. However, we also encourage a variety in their performing such as musicals and local dance and ballet companies.