For many people, the coming of the Pantomime marks the beginning of the festive season proper (if we all choose to ignore the stuff that pops up in the shops as early on as September).
The pantomime began as a type of traveling Italian street theatre known as Commedia dell'arte which came to Britain in the 16th century. It's changed quite a bit since then, with the characteristic role reversals evolving slowly throughout the 19th century. By the 1880's the 'Prince Charming' or hero roles were always played by women and in exchange the comedic 'Mother' role was always played a man.
Of course, the most major change in modern pantomime is the introduction of a star cast. This isn't a nationwide thing though. I have to confess, my favourite pantomimes I have ever worked on have been smaller, but still professional productions. With fantastic, talented cast members in all of the roles, not forgetting the local school kids drafted in for the junior chorus.
Either way, Panto is an important part of a Theatres calendar, making up a huge part of the years box office takings and dictating the following years possibilities.
For many families it's a yearly tradition. For many children it's their first experience of the theatre. And for many theatre professionals it's a yearly guarantee of a 2 month contract. Albeit, one that marks a gruelling work schedule, a flu jab and a new set of catchy pop songs stuck in your head!
I've always seen it as a bit of a right of passage. I worked for 4 years on pantomimes, all in different locations around England, and in different roles. There are many pro's: Travelling and getting to know a new place in England, meeting the amazing people who work on the shows, and of course the challenge is unbeatable. I can safely say I've never worked as hard as on a Panto, but at the same time, I've never learnt as much in such a short space of time.
When it comes around each year, people either love it or hate it. I'll always love it, because I think of all the work that has gone into it and the joy that comes out of it and I just think it's ace.
Do you love it or hate it?