by The Capitol, Horsham
images by Toby Phillips Photography
For many children the only time of year they will visit their local theatre is to see a pantomime, often as a school trip, so it’s important their experience is a good one and one where some lifetime memories will be made.
Can you cast your mind back and remember the first ever pantomime you saw?
The magic of live theatre is as salient for children as it’s ever been, providing time away from screens, mobile devices and their day-to-day world into a place which is new and exciting, lots of fun and encourages imagination.
Pantomime provides a chance for children to come together with all generations of their families to see a live show which will make everyone laugh, sing along and feel happy.
The word ‘pantomime’ comes from the Greek word ‘pantomimos’, which meant a dancer who acted all the roles in the story. Pantomime, as a type of theatre, originates from ‘Commedia dell’Arte’, a 16th-century Italian entertainment which used dance, music, tumbling, acrobatics and featured a cast of mischievous characters including a Harlequin, a mute, quick-witted rascal who carried a magic bat, wore a mask and dressed in clothes made of patches.
Until 1843, theatre licensing restricted the use of spoken word in pantomime. The Theatres Act lifted the restriction, allowing any theatre without a royal patent to produce a play with dialogue.
Today the basis of a good pantomime has a storyline of good versus evil often derived from a fairy tale or nursery story. It includes colourful costumes, dancing, topical jokes with good measures of slapstick comedy, special effects and, of course, lots of audience participation.
Audience participation is important as it offers the chance for children to interact with the cast and the rest of the audience who are encouraged to boo the baddie, argue with the Dame and warn the Principal Boy the villain is near them by shouting out “He’s behind you!”
From daylight into darkness through the entrance doors, a theatre provides a sensory experience – the background music in the foyer, the smell of popcorn and pyrotechnics, the velvety feel of the theatre seats, the excitement building up to the curtain rise, flashing lights, glittery scenery and a tasty ice cream during the interval.
It’s a chance for children to see scenes brought to life with magical characters, fairies, heroes, heroines, eccentric costumes and to see things they would normally only read about in books or see in films.
Studies have proven that people who visit theatres as children are more likely to book theatre tickets throughout their adult lives broadening their cultural outlook.
In theatre and drama classes, pantomime can help develop nonverbal communication, concentration and the ability to put action and thought together. Pantomime can be incorporated in most lesson plans to encourage the students to engage in some fun and learn at the same time.
The theatre is a powerful space and can have a massive impact on a younger audience. Some children are completely overwhelmed by it all but others become curious and want answers to lots of questions: “How can I get up there to sing and dance?” “How do those lights work?” “Where does the sound come from?” “How did the baddie just ‘disappear’ off stage?”
A visit to the theatre can often spark an interest which leads to a hobby or even a pathway to a career. Drama generally builds confidence and helps concentration, develops language, communication skills, coordination and emotional intelligence helping children to understand the world around them.
With theatres being closed for such a long time during the COVID pandemic, it made many of us realise how much we missed it when it was swiped from our day-to-day lives.
Matthew Effemey, Venue and Operations Manager at The Capitol, Horsham where Cinderella will run from 8-31 December said “It’s a great responsibility to introduce the joy of pantomime to a younger audience at an impressionable age, so a good theatre must ensure that the overall experience is one to remember.”
Cinderella will run from 8th -31st December at The Capitol, Horsham www.thecapitolhorsham.com