December creeps up on us again and Christmas sets up camp for the rest of the semester, but this time round there seems to be something missing – pantomimes. They seem to be lacking in Leeds. They are loved by children and are traditionally festive events that bring generations together. But with Leeds resorting to a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll panto’ and relying on casting reality stars such as Geordie Shore’s Scotty T to attract the masses, one might begin to question whether pantos are taking a step towards the Christmas tradition graveyard this year.
Although some may not view the arguable decline of the pantomime as a loss, these colourful performances will have been many children’s very first experience of theatre. Without such an opportunity, there is little other obvious occasion for children to be introduced to onstage entertainment. Although the West Yorkshire Playhouse seems to attempt to address the importance of theatre for infants with their production of Rudolf this Christmastime, the joy of pantomime is its ability to entertain on a number of different levels. The adult jokes that become shockingly obvious with age allow generations to come together for equal enjoyment as they watch the shows year on year.
‘Although some may not view the arguable decline of the pantomime as a loss, these colourful performances will have been many children’s very first experience of theatre. Without such an opportunity, there is little other obvious occasion for children to be introduced to onstage entertainment’
Not only do pantomimes get children to the theatre, they also give adults this chance. With many people leading increasingly fast-paced lives, when can we take time out to visit the theatre if not at Christmas? A lack of pantomime may lead to a fall in theatregoers, at Christmastime and throughout the year, as the annual reminder of the joy of theatre disappears. Whether you’re a fan of the pantomime or not, getting bums on seats in theatres can only be a good thing for the arts and, although not the most highbrow of theatrical entertainment, pantomimes are special for other reasons.
For one, they encourage communication between performers and audience. The crowd experience how its reaction shapes the performance they are watching, just as it can in all forms of theatre. The audience makes a difference, showing how theatre is not a passive event, but a two-way conversation. Through such demonstrations, theatre proves its relevance in the arts world as it offers thrilling spontaneity, unpredictability and a unique experience with each performance.
Pantomimes also remind us of the power of storytelling. Long gone are the times when stories were only transmitted by word of mouth, but pantomimes present a strong case that there are few better ways to tell a story than orally and visually. When we sat down to watch the Christmas pantos of our childhood, whether or not we knew the story of Cinderella or Aladdin proved to be irrelevant, as it was how the stories were performed that was entertaining, not the hopeful anticipation of a plot twist.
Above all, pantos are needed now more than ever. As this comically catastrophic year draws to a close, we turn to Christmas for some light relief… sometimes it’s necessary to dream of a world where good will always trump evil.
(Image courtesy of Tristram Kenton)