By Sam Evans
As December quickly approaches, the pantomime season is ready to descend upon us. Oh no it isn’t, I hear you cry. Well oh yes, it is…
A pantomime is a British tradition much like making a cup of tea or queuing – it’s what us Brits do best. We like nothing better than to watch a fusion of music and comedy which result in the pantomime. I mean, where else in the world could you get away with watching a middle aged man in drag playing the character of an old woman called the dame?
The wonderful thing about a pantomime is that it has something for every member of the family, no matter how old. Song, dance, topical references, audience participation and mild sexual innuendo are just some of the features of pantomimes.
One article written in the late 1940’s describes the art of pantomime well: “Shaw couldn’t have written it; The Olivier’s couldn’t act it, Gigli couldn’t sing it, and Fontyn couldn’t dance it. It’s pantomime. It happens – once a year all over Britain. And there’s no other art form quite like it.”
Pantomimes tend to take place in the majority of cities and towns throughout Britain, with a celebrity playing the lead role. Typical celebrity names getting top billing on theatre brochures, flyers and boards include: John Challis best known for playing Boycie in Only Fools and Horses, Eastenders Stars Steve McFadden, Shane Ritchie, John Partridge and Torchwood actor/Regular TV fixture, John Barrowman.
The most famous British pantomime actor is Christopher Biggins, known for his eccentricity; Biggins is high in demand and often plays the Dame.
Reality stars can also get involved as well, with Mario Falcone from The Only Way Is Essex and Jon Moses, best known as the finalist in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Superstar, both appearing as the lead roles in two separate shows in the same town, Worthing.
Pantomimes can be extremely lucrative. The wages of a Panto Star varies from £8,000 a week to £200,000 if you’re an international name. .
Aside from the celebrities raising their profile, getting a regular weekly wage and paid accommodation, it can also re-launch their career and show that they’re versatile. Many accomplished stage and screen actors often disregarded pantomime and there was a certain stigma against appearing in one until Sir Ian Mckellen, known as one of the world’s finest actors, led the cast in a special pantomime at the Old Vic theatre as Widow Twankey in Aladdin. It was McKellen’s role in the pantomime that initiated the recent surge of high profile celebs signing up to get involved with pantomimes. These high profile names include Joan Collins, Pamela Anderson, David Hasslehoff, Mickey Rooney, Steve Guttenberg and Henry Winkler. They’re all known on both sides of the Atlantic and have all taken part in Pantomimes.
The most famous theatre in Britain for pantomimes is The New Wimbledon Theatre. Not content with the likes of their usual pantomime names seen in the 90’s – early 2000’s (Joe Pasquale, Bonnie Langford and Leslie Grantham gracing the stage), the South West London theatre went a step further and recruited star names such as The Hoff, Henry Winkler, Dame Edna Everage and Jerry Springer to add a bit of Hollywood glamour. It is perhaps a homage to the London based theatre that they had Paul ‘O Grady, Ruby Wax, Brian Blessed, Anita Dobson and Pamela Anderson involved in one season, sharing roles.
Pamela Anderson in particular was much lauded for her role, and “sexed” up her act as the genie, incorporating many Baywatch references, whilst wearing scantily clad clothing. Pammy doing panto also proved to be box office gold, with men from all areas of the country suddenly surprising their family by taking them to London to see a pantomime and not moaning about the task of sitting through two hours of it.
For this year the Wimbledon theatre has recruited another star name in an attempt to carry on adding the glitz and glamour to the pantomimes that they’ve become renowned for. This year will see Priscilla Pressley, ex-wife of the iconic Elvis, staring opposite Warwick Davies, the 3 foot 6 actor famous for his appearances in Star Wars, Harry Potter and Life’s Too Short. If someone who was married to Elvis, is worth £100 million and is prepared to leave the confines of her American mansion to act in panto, then it must be trendy.
So, if you like Christmas and all the festive feelings that go with it, then get down to your local theatre and watch a pantomime. Alternatively, if you like to see celebrities make arses of themselves, then again, head on down.