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Pantos are great: in defence of the mocked festive tradition

Pantos are great”. “Oh no they’re not!”. “Oh yes they are!”. I could go on. Despite being a well established Christmas tradition, the pantomime – or panto – is as divisive as ever. Opinions range from some saying it’s the highlight of their year, to others claiming it is something only to be enjoyed by children – not self-respected adults. However, the pantomime is an essential Christmas tradition that should not be forgotten.

The appeal of the pantomime lies in its unique combination of nostalgia, familiarity, and humour.

I am biased; having acted in eight pantomimes myself, I am a somewhat of a self-declared pantomime connoisseur. Their appeal as a child was, of course, the glitter and sparkle present in every pantomime. I remember being enthralled by the magical retellings of fairy tales. In fact, the obligatory annual visit to watch the local pantomime was the highlight of my Christmas. I then grew old enough to act in them. Despite being on the other side of the curtain, the panto was still as magical as ever. While I suddenly understood the mechanisms and technology behind the special effects that captured my attention as a child, it never became any less magical. Instead, I had been granted the power to make people in the audience laugh. And behind the scenes, there was just as much laughter and joy as there was in the audience. Now, as an adult, I still enjoy pantos, and I am now able to pick up on the double entendres and subtle jokes I may have missed as a child. In essence, the enjoyment I have received from pantomimes has never diminished. And yet, some people still relegate them to “children’s entertainment”.

Despite being retellings of the same familiar tales, pantos can be reshaped and rewritten, making the stories feel fresh every time.

Even though I haven’t acted in a panto in years, I will jump at any chance to go and watch one. But what makes me keep coming back year after year is not the storytelling (for I know the fairytales off by heart) or the acting (for I could watch a serious play instead). The appeal of the pantomime lies in its unique combination of nostalgia, familiarity, and humour. There is something deeply comforting about watching a play where you know exactly what to do, what is happening on stage, and how the play will end. From an outsider’s perspective, sitting in a dark room full of people screaming “he’s behind you!” may seem shocking or even cult-like. But somewhere along the way, this has become a quintessential Christmas tradition, playing into the ever-present element of nostalgia present during this time of year. 

Despite being retellings of the same familiar tales, pantos can be reshaped and rewritten, making the stories feel fresh every time. What’s more, the pantomimes I was in included cameos from noticeable events from the past year. The modern twist placed on traditional stories ultimately makes pantomimes appealing year after year. For example, I remember performing ‘Gangnam Style’ dressed as one of the Cratchit family children in a very-of-its-time retelling of A Christmas Carol. Other pantomimes I’ve acted in also included light-hearted political jokes, topics ranging from Brexit to the royal family, to general events that had taken place the year before. These kinds of additions are what make pantomimes so much more than just stale retellings of predictable fairy tales.

With panto season well underway, maybe it’s time to let your inner child loose, and go and watch your local pantomime. 

Pantos are also the epitome of what Christmas should be – familiar tales retold in a fun and whimsical way that brings families together. Despite criticism, they are not exclusively for children. To brand them as such would not only be inaccurate, but it would also exclude the masses of adults that watch pantomimes year after year. And with panto season well underway, maybe it’s time to let your inner child loose, and go and watch your local pantomime. 

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