Essential Design Features of a Classic Pantomime

News 5 December 2023
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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When you go to see a pantomime there are some things you expect and often plenty of surprises too. Despite it all seeming like a huge joke and tons of fun, a lot of work goes into a good panto, and it really is an art form that takes time to perfect. Here we’re exploring the essential design features of a fantastic pantomime.

It starts with a story

A good pantomime is always based around one of those classic children’s stories. With an easy-to-follow plot and plenty of recognisable characters it makes the stories easy for audiences of all ages to enjoy. The stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin and more have been adapted time and again and have their own standardised panto version that heads off in a different, outrageous direction from the original story. The stories are often chosen as the feature animal characters too which add fun and hilarity to the show.

Throw in some stock characters

Stock characters are those you’ll see in any panto up and down the country. Classic characters such as the Clown, the Dame and the Principal Boy are almost always present in every panto, and they provide a sense of familiarity for regular panto goers who know what to look for in a good show.

Spectacular set design

Set design for pantomime has always been extravagant and as technology has advanced, so have the theatrics and set features of each show. While you can work wonders with expert set designers, wooden constructions and elaborately painted backcloths, some shows take it to the next level using technology and lighting. 3D projection sequences make it easy to quickly change scenes and allow the scene changes to happen much more smoothly than in the early days of panto.

A good set design can wow and amaze the audience and let them know they’re in for a good show. Special effects also fall under set design so look out for those high wires and unimaginable feats of magic that see your favourite characters flying through the air.

Makeup and costume extravagance

Nothing says flamboyant more than the fabulous choice of costumes and over-the-top makeup necessary to ensure your panto characters stand out. The Dame, of course, takes centre stage in this respect, with her outrageous oversized skirts and cartoonish makeup, her almost clownlike appearance is essential for that classic pantomime feel.

Pantomime costumes are made to stand out, with spots, stripes and of course a ton of glitter.

Slapstick sensations

Bringing out the props and special effects is vital for those laugh-out-loud slapstick scenes. It might be the dame chasing people around with her frying pan or a couple of comedic characters bopping each other over the head with oversized mallets, pantomime relies upon that physical comedy to get the laughs going. Yes, panto is a family occasion but it’s the youngest audience members who need the most entertainment and over-the-top acrobatics and play fights are a key part of this.

The ‘He’s Behind You’ Ghost Gag

Without the Ghost Gag, a pantomime doesn’t feel quite right. The Ghost Gag is where the audience is brought into the show with cries of “He’s behind you!” as the actors run and look for a ghostly or monstrous being. The Ghost Gag gets the audience fully involved and is one of the most memorable moments of any pantomime. It’s a truly classic pantomime tradition and involves your main character or sometimes the Dame, chasing around after a ghostly spectre and never quite managing to catch up with them. The back and forth of “he’s behind you!” can go on for some time as the audience gets more and more involved and excited.

The perfect fairytale ending

Pantomimes traditionally end their plot around two scenes before the full end of the show. The penultimate scene is usually a community song that the audience recognises and can all get involved with. Then, in the finale scene itself, there is usually the wedding and applause for all the actors. You will usually get a reprise of the most popular or best song in the show and the finale itself should be short, sharp and a chance to end on a truly high note.

The design elements of pantomime help to create the perfect scene for a fantastic show. All of the many elements come together to ensure the audience has a fantastic time and enjoys the true pantomime experience.

If this has whetted your appetite for seeing a pantomime this year, why not book your tickets to watch Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs at Bournemouth Pavilion from 3 - 31 December 2023. Click here to book your tickets now!