Do a panto quiz
Click and drop - Fill the gaps by clicking on the phrases in grey in the top boxes and then clicking on their corresponding spaces in the text. If you change your mind just repeat the process. You can find the answers after the exercises.
1. Cross-dressing and risqué humour
|played by a young woman
played by a man
of the children in the audience
make her female charms
|the 'pantomime dame'|
the 'principal boy'
of perfectly innocent phrases
risqué double entendre
2. Audience participation
|the poor victims
usually fancies the prince
'Oh yes she is!'
one of the ugly sisters
|an essential part of panto
'Oh no he isn't!'
'He's behind you!'
3. A song, an animal, heroes and villains
|encouraged to sing
in a single costume
a well-known tune
in 'animal skin'
challenged to sing 'their'
the evil villain enters
4. A bit of slapstick
a decorating or baking scene
full of streamers
throwing messy substances
|often finished with
throw a bucket of 'water'
more or less part of
members of the audience
Jack and the Beanstalk
Introduction to a short video extract
Some examples of risqué double entendre from the video:
- Jack: How did you get away?
- Jill: Well, I told my father I was going to do some embroidery with a girlfriend.
- Jack: Wow! You've got a girlfriend. Girls, boys. Girls, girls. It's all free and easy these days, isn't it?
- Jill: Oh Jack, I can feel something between us.
- Jack: I'm sorry.
- Jack: What could we do together that wouldn't cost anything and would leave us both satisfied and slightly flushed.
- Jill: Sing a song together about our predicament?
- Jack: (disappointed) OK
- Jill: It's getting harder to resist.
- Jack: ... it's getting harder.
- Jill: Last night I was dreaming, that you and I were wed.
- Jack: ... that's funny, 'cos I too was tossing ... and turning in my bed.
- Jill: This waiting's just too much to bear.
- Jack: (looking at her bust) ... much to bear. (sounds like - much too bare)
- Jill: I can't believe how big our love has grown.
- Jack: ... how big it's grown.
The revival of panto
Panto got into a bit of a rut in the eighties and nineties. According to actor and director Simon Callow, that was partly because theatres started to rely too much on celebrities rather than using actors and comedians.
But I wonder if it didn't also have something to do with a certain intellectual snobbery, which bundled panto together with TV programmes like 'Are You Being Served' and the 'Carry On' films, as being rather low brow humour, fit only for the hoi polloi. 'Do we really want our children watching that smutty stuff?'. But I think we now realise that this all part of the rich mixture that is British humour.
'Pantomime has undergone a huge revival,' ... 'Ten years ago, pantomime was in the doldrums and had declined because it had lost touch with its roots.'
'Recently theatre producers began to realise what a waste this decline was, because pantomime is the first introduction to the theatre for most children.'
'It's one of the few occasions which bring together every generation, class and culture. You can't be snobby or elitist about pantomime, because it is a theatrical skill for which you need an excellent variety of brilliant performers.'
'The revival started in 2004 when Sir Ian McKellen famously made it acceptable again for prominent actors to do pantomime when he played Dame Widow Twankey in the Old Vic's production of Aladdin.'
ITV Pantos on YouTube
These four excellent pantos include some of the best-known comedians on British TV, as well as straight actors such as Julie Walters and Siân Phillips. This is modern panto, heavily influenced by TV comedy, but all the old ingredients are there (apart from boys who are girls). It is panto just as it should be. They were all written by Simon Nye, who first made his name with 'Men behaving badly', and the quality of the writing shows, especially in Jack and the Beanstalk. On Christmas day, all four are shown 'back-to-back' on Britain's ITV. You can find the cast lists at Wikipedia.
Incidentally, all four star Julian Clary, 'known for his deliberately stereotypical camp style, with a heavy reliance on innuendo and double entendre' (Wikipedia). Although I've never been a great fan (kitsch is not really my thing - except in panto), I strongly believe that Clary, who was (and is) incredibly popular with the general public, probably had more effect in the nineties on changing attitudes in Britain towards homosexuality than any other single factor. In Cinderella he plays the good fairy, which you could say (in the nicest possible way) is exactly what he is.
Adults-only panto and children-only panto
Comparing these with the series of TV pantos from the Paul O'Grady Show, also on YouTube, makes me even more convinced that kids are essential to panto. The humour on the Paul O'Grady Show is supposedly more adult, alternative even; what's more, the cast includes excellent actors and comedians. But for me it lacks something; there is a studio audience, who we never see, but they sound as if they're all adults. Somehow a bunch of adults going 'boo', 'hooray' etc, just ends up being a bit tacky, and the edginess of the humour of traditional panto is lost. I'm afraid I find it all a bit flat, and even a little embarrassing. I do like alternative comedy, and I also like pantomime, but I'm not convinced that the two mix.
But if the Paul O'Grady versions are missing the kids, cleaned up 'children only' versions like the one from CBeebies are equally missing the adult humour. And while I'm sure the kids love it, it's not like the real thing.
Panto-related videos on YouTube
- Monty Python - Pantomime horses
- Derek - 'What, dear? Me, dear? Gay, dear? How very dare you!', The Catherine Tate Show, with lots more innuendo (some of it pretty strong)
- Woodlands Junior School - an introduction
- Limelight Scripts - A history
- Lazy Bee Scripts - Some of the main stories
- It's behind you.com - A site dedicated to pantomime
- Google images
- BBC Learning's pantomime - with audio and script
The revival of panto
- BBC News - on Ian McKellen and panto
- Ian McKellen - on panto, from his own website
- Daily Mail - Shakespearian actor Simon Callow tells of his relationship with panto
Panto in the press
- The Guardian - We're still behind you! Why we'll never grow too old for pantomimes
- The Guardian - How we get hooked on panto
- The Guardian - Why today's panto prefers to see boys playing girls who play boys
- The Daily Telegraph - Top ten pantomimes for Christmas
- The Daily Mail - Oh no you can't!: Killjoy officials ban panto stars from throwing sweets to children