19th December 2020

The theatrical form of pantomime is an art almost solely reserved for the period immediately before and after the Christmas holiday. Comprising of several acts and loosely based around a well-known folk tale of nursery rhyme the productions are ever popular with children, adolescents, and adults alike. Their appeal, their longevity, depends upon a concoction of extraordinarily clever dialogue, comprising almost entirely of doubtful double entendres, cunningly contrived to be almost non decipherable to the younger audience, yet just clear enough to convince them that the language must be smutty and therefore outrageously funny.

In British theatres such performances are considered both seasonally traditional and harmless, whilst no doubt American audiences would be wholly shocked and perplexed by the rather obvious use of sexual inuendo. But another example of the large gap between the degree of so called ‘protective’ censorship practiced on either side of the pond.

The actors appearing within these short run productions fit into two very neatly divided categories. Generally the leading man and lady, say Jack and Jill, or Prince and Cinderella, are played by well recognized personalities, from stage, screen, television, or the media, whilst the supporting cast, including a particularly British invention known a ‘dame’, will be filled by far more accomplished performers, though of less   street credibility. It is quite normal for the supporting actors to be paid a far higher salary than the so-called stars, who are obliged to fight tooth and nail just for the honor of appearing in such prestigious entertainments for little more than a pittance.

A ‘dame’ is a role particular to the form, a very outlandish feminine character played with great gusto by a male. Such specialized performers are famous in their own right, the most accomplished being eagerly sought after. Scholars amongst you will no doubt be aware that many Shakespearian plays abound with such switch parts, acting being considered wholly unsuitable for female participation prior to the seventeenth century.

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