Pantomime is an unashamedly British tradition, but from the outside we can see it looks a little odd. Americans in particular who believe they share many characteristics with our culture and society, find it hard to get on board with the outrageous fun that pantomime brings. Donny Osmond, almost an honorary Brit, has explained his reasoning behind most Americans not quite getting pantomime, saying: “The magic of the show really lies in the audience, and I believe you have to have that tradition in you…people here [in the UK] really let loose when they come to a show, and that’s what makes it so special.”
The Great British Pantomime has some lovers across the pond but it’s not a commonly understood concept and here we’re going to look more closely at just how to convince our American pals about the wonder of panto and its essential place in the festive calendar.
It’s worth keeping in mind there is a small language difference in the meaning of pantomime in American English, which is probably where the confusion begins. In US English, “pantomime” and “mime” have the same definition, so for the average American pantomime should be silent. This is just the beginning of the confusion!
Pantomime is a fascinating spectacle when you see it for the first time and some of the things to keep in mind are looked at in more depth below.
Participation is key
American theatre is traditionally quite serious, yes there are circus and comedy acts but a visit to the theatre is about exploring a work of spoken art. Pantomime is fun, silly and packed with opportunities to get involved. The audience is just as important as the cast in a pantomime. Going to a panto is a not something you plan to do if you want a passive and relaxed night of quiet contemplation. Expect loud cheers, claps, whirring toys, bells, whistles and everything else. Audiences must be prepared to jump up, sit down, sing on request, shout on request and potentially get pelted with sweets (candy) or squirted with water. Audiences are cast members in pantomimes, something many American audience members may never have experienced before.
Americans first experiencing pantomime may feel they’re trapped in an otherworldly farce. There is silliness and plenty of tomfoolery, but the shows aren’t without thought and current value. You will find pantomimes peppered with political swipes and the occasional jibe about a certain ex-president. The theatrical nature of panto means the jokes flow seamlessly, and you’ll find some very clever and witty remarks mixed in with the madness.
Gender swaps as standard
When you hear the words “principal boy” and “pantomime dame” in the UK, you immediately think of a woman and a man in each role. Naturally without experience of pantomime in the USA, they’d consider the principal boy to be male and the dame, of course female. The fun and surprise when each character bursts onto the stage is not to be missed. Many great actors have established fantastic careers from their legendary dame performances, providing a camp, matriarchal presence in any show. Gender subversion isn’t limited to these roles, and you may find further swaps occurring within the plot of the show. Men playing women and women playing men is standard in almost every panto.
Peals of laughter
Attending a pantomime and not uttering a single laugh is not possible. Most people are in stitches for the most part of the show and even if your American friends are a little bewildered, they’ll be hard pressed not to laugh a little. Many of the jokes may be designed with children in mind but can be enjoyed by anyone of any age and you can surely bet everyone will have at least a little snigger during the show.
Or should that be technicolor? However you choose to spell it pantomime is bright, bold and outrageously vibrant. America has its musicals and comedies but they’re quite separate from traditional theatre. Everything about pantomime is over the top and this includes sets, props and of course costumes. Bright and bold is vital for the true pantomime feeling and it really can be an assault on the senses. With Americans adoring their festive decorations and many neighbourhoods packed with outlandish and garish Christmas light displays, maybe this is one pantomime feature they can easily get on board with?
Expect the Unexpected
Even the most inhibited of audience members find themselves up and dancing on panto night. The whole experience and atmosphere is a chance to go wild and enjoy. You’ll chat to the people seated around you, chomp, cheer, sing and shout along and enjoy the whole experience more than you ever could have expected. Pantomime is a chance to embrace your inner child and immerse yourself in the fun, fantasy and fabulousness of the night.
Celebrating the Fun of Pantomime this Christmas
Whether you have friends or family over in the America or not, it’s fun to consider how one of our Great British institutions looks to our closest neighbours over the Pond. If you have visitors coming from the States this winter then you simply must show them the wonders of panto and teach them how much fun it can be!
Our pantomime this winter is a perfect opportunity to show your American friends just how much fun can be had at panto. This year’s show is Sleeping Beauty and tickets are available from the beginning of December until January 1st. Our show brings together Dancing On Ice champion and actress Hayley Tamaddon as Good Fairy, legendary panto dame Philip Meeks as Nursie and Britain’s Got Talent finalist and popular comedian Steve Royle as Silly Billy.
Let’s show the Americans just how amazing panto can be and bring them over to the bright side!
If this has whetted your appetite for seeing a pantomime this year, why not book your ticketsto watch Beauty and the Beast at Bournemouth Pavilion.